In-form Harps maintained their excellent start to the new season with a hard-earned victory over Longford Town on Friday night.
Finn Harps 1
Longford Town 0
The result lifts Harps above Longford in the table and with three games played, they are level on points with the surprise pace-setters, Mervue United.
Harps boss, Peter Hutton, felt his team just about deserved the points after a closely fought encounter.
“It was a battling three points, it was very much about grinding out the result,” he said.
“It was far from pretty at times but in this league, it’s just about being effective and getting the job done and that’s what we did tonight.
“The second half was very poor. Obviously the conditions didn’t help, the strong wind and the bumpy pitch didn’t lend itself to any fluent football but I can’t fault the boys for their effort. They worked their socks off. “They are putting their bodies on the line and deserve a lot of credit for that.”
The manager was pleased to keep a clean sheet and also praised the performance of his match-winner, Kevin McHugh and strike partner, Sean McCarron.
“What a great goal to decide it,” he said. “It was another well executed goal.”
He added: “They are two quality players and they have linked a decent partnership. They are combining well and working well together. Sean’s a quality player and he’s learning week in and week out from Kevin on the training pitch.”
McHugh’s goal came at the midway point of a first half which up until then, had been bossed by the visitors.
So it was against the run of play when the Killea man picked up possession on the edge of the ‘D’ and moved the ball onto his weaker left foot before steering a wonderful effort just inside the post beyond the dive of Longford keeper, Chris Bennion.
Up until then, Bennion had little to do as his team took the game to their opponents. With a stiff breeze at their backs, they were well on top and even though they had been forced into two substitutions because of injuries in the opening 13 minutes, those changes did little to upset the pattern of play.
Longford’s best chance of a goal came when the experienced Willo McDonagh glanced an inswinging corner towards goal but Marc Brolly was perfectly placed on the back post to clear off the line.
They went close again immediately after half time when Keith Gillespie’s curling free kick came back off the crossbar and Brian McCarthy’s follow-up went over the bar.
With the stiff breeze and bumpy surface making conditions extremely difficult, the quality of football was poor. That said, there were plenty of talking points not least when Longford were controversially denied a penalty when David O’Sullivan went down inside the box under the challenge of Thomas McMonagle.
The referee, Rob Harvey, gave a free kick on the edge of the box, insisting that McMonagle’s initial foul was made outside the area. It was one of several decisions that prompted much frustration on the visiting bench.
Harps had chances of their own in the second half - the best falling to Sean McCarron who after a wonderful mazey run along the by-line, failed to keep his composure, shooting wastefully wide with only keeper, Bennion, to beat.
Marc Brolly also volleyed wide as Harps sought a second but in the end, McHugh’s goal proved enough to earn a second home win on the bounce and warm the hearts of the home supporters on a bitterly cold night in Ballybofey.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher, Damien McNulty, Matthew Crossan, Thomas McMonagle, Keith Cowan, Aaron O’Hagan (Tommy Bonner 84), Sean McGowan, Michael Funston, Sean McCarron, Kevin McHugh, Marc Brolly (Paul McVeigh 80).
Longford Town: Chris Bennion, Noel Haverty (Etanda Nkololo 4), Daniel Purdy (David O’Neill 78), Willo McDonagh, Brian McCarthy, William Tyrell, Keith Gillespie, Mark Salmon, David O’Sullivan, Michael Isichei (John O’Hanlon 13), Colm James.
Referee: Rob Harvey.
There were two key moments in this game - the goal from Kevin McHugh on 22 minutes, and the decision by referee, Rob Harvey, not to award Longford a penalty on 65 minutes.
Thomas McMonagle was definitely fouling David O’Sullivan as he hade his way along the by-line before he eventually went down inside the box. The referee’s decision to give a free instead of a penalty was understandable but so too was the reaction of the visiting players and supporters.
Rob Harvey didn’t have the easiest of nights. After an incident-free first half, he was the centre of attention in the second. The penalty decision aside, he prompted anger on the visiting bench who felt he was wrong not to show red cards to firstly Kevin McHugh for an incident involving Willo McDonagh and then Matthew Crossan for an over the top challenge on Gillespie. Crossan had earlier been shown a yellow card for time wasting and managed to avoid a second yellow despite a poor challenge on the former Northern Ireland international.
Man of the match
Peter Hutton was happy that his side managed to keep a clean sheet - their first of the season - and the central defensive pairing of Keith Cowan and Thomas McMonagle played their part in keeping Longford at bay. Sean McCarron was excellent in the second half while Brolly, Michael Funston and McHugh also played well. Shaun McGowan, making his 200th appearance for the club, had a quality game at the centre of midfield and gets the nod for man-of-the-match.