The race for automatic promotion from the First Division has been thrown wide open after Wexford Youths took the points on Friday night at Finn Park.
Finn Harps 1
Wexford Youths 3
Harps will be content to be leading the way in this division at the half way stage in the season - but after two defeats on the bounce, they’ve allowed Wexford and UCD right back into the hunt.
Ollie Horgan had always played down the significance of Harps’ long-time lead at the top of the table. However, after watching his side play some of their best football of the season in this game, he will have been disappointed not to have at least avoided defeat against their title rivals.
“We probably didn’t take the chances that we got and that’s basically it in a nutshell,” he said.
“I thought we actually played quite well. We played some decent football. We had two thirds of the possession. We had a lot of set pieces.”
He suggested Wexford’s 2-0 half time lead was far from a fair reflection on the way the first half had gone.
“It was similar in the second half,” he said. “We went out and tried to play. We threw caution to the wind a fair bit and got one back with a great goal from Kevin (McHugh). And then Tony McNamee, who was probably one of our better players tonight, he got caught. I think the ball went under his foot and they broke again and Mulligan got the third. After that it was an uphill struggle.
“But I as I said to the players, at the start of the year, we weren’t playing as well as that. We weren’t giving away chances and we were scraping out a draw or maybe a 1-0 win. But tonight, we played a lot of football but we made mistakes and got caught.”
The manager said it was difficult to criticise his team after such a good performance and felt that Wexford’s ability to take the few chances that came their way was the difference in the end.
The league’s top scorer, Danny Furlong, brought his total for the season to 13 when he fired his team in front on 22 minutes, his free kick deflecting in off the wall.
Harps, as Horgan pointed out, were much the better team in the first half and with Gareth Harkin and McNamee pulling the strings in midfield, they outplayed and out-passed their opponents. McHugh had a couple of chances but just before half time, the visitors struck again in deadly fashion.
The bustling Aiden Keenan held off the challege of Keith Cowan inside the Harps area and when the ball was delivered to the back post by Craig McCabe, Andy Mulligan got in ahead of his man to head past Gallagher.
There was still time for Harps to create another chance before half time. Harkin, straight from the kick-off, weaved his way into the Wexford area and set up McNamee in front of goal. The Ramelton man’s half volley crashed off the crossbar before being scrambled to safety.
Harps introduced Regan Donelon on the left for the second time and the home side continued to dominate. McNamee went close again before Kevin McHugh cracked home a spactacular strike on the hour.
Suddenly it was game on and given Harps’ dominance, an equaliser looked only a matter of time. But Wexford had other ideas. Furlong was fortunate to win possession on half way and raced into an empty Harps half before delivering to the back post where Mulligan was on hand to score his second.
Even with 20 minutes still to play, there was to be no way back for Harps. Wexford lost midfielder, Conor English to a second yellow card towards the end, but by that stage, the points were in the bag.
Finn Harps: Gallagher, J. Mailey (Friel 71), Coll, Cowan, McMonagle, Crossan (Donelon 46), Funston, McNamee, Tagbo, McHugh, Harkin.
Wexford Youths: Doyle, McCabe, Grace, Delaney, Last, English, Higgins (Delaney 61), Wall, Mulligan, Furlon, Keenan.
Referee: John McLaughlin.