FINN HARPS exacted some FAI Cup revenge over Wexford Youths on Friday night following their First Division defeat seven nights’ beforehand in the south-east.
Finn Harps 2
Wexford Youths 1
Keith Cowan broke Wexford’s resolution when he steered in from close range after Gary Merritt’s free-kick into the crowded area fell into his path on 55 minutes.
Then, Sean McCarron’s spot kick on 79 minutes, confidently dispatched for his seventh goal of the season, sealed Harps’ place in the third round.
Eric Molloy, though, pulled one back with just five minutes left, from Wexford’s first meaningful shot on target in the second half when he volleyed home from a cross from James Dermody.
The goal was greeted by virtual silence and made for an edgy last few minutes.
Wexford have continually proven to be a tough nut to crack on their visits to the Twins Towns having won their first ever away match on the ground six seasons ago.
But Friday was a night when patience proved to be a virtue for the home team.
The other main talking point was when referee Ray Matthews pointed to the spot for what appeared to be a very harsh call for handball against Dermody when Paul McVeigh was centring from the right, 19 minutes from time.
The left-back was understandably upset and protested his innocence, claiming the ball had hit him on the chest from the cross, which was struck from only a couple of yards away.
Matthews opted to consult with his assistant Declan Toland, who was the closest to the incident, and between the two they decision was changed to a Harps free-kick on left-hand-side of Wexford’s box.
Needless to say, after all the fuss, it came to nothing.
Harps manager Peter Hutton made three changes from the side beaten 2-1 in Wexford with Damien McNulty, Aaron O’Hagan and McVeigh replacing James Doherty, Johnny Bonner and suspended club captain Kevin McHugh.
The visitors only landed 35 minutes prior to kick-off but it was goalkeeper Graham Doyle that was almost caught out when a cross from the left from McCarron grazed the crossbar.
McVeigh was declared offside before he could harbour any thoughts of sticking in the rebound.
The first hald was almost completely devoid of entertainment and Harps, after a decent opening, didn’t look capable at that point of unlocking the Wexford defence.
McCarron was certainly the liveliest of those on show and Doyle saved a rasper that was too close to his body, as well as denying McVeigh as Harps slowly found their way through the gears in front of the scattered few in attendance.
Shane Keegan’s Wexford, as they had done in the previous league fixture in Ballybofey in April, were content to sit behind lone striker Dean Broaders.
That policy of containment over entertainment was one that Harps found hard to deal with in that scoreless draw, a night when Ciaran Gallagher made a vital save from the only meaningful chance of the match from Shane Nolan.
There was almost a replication on Friday with 42 minutes played when Nolan blocked down Thomas Bonnar’s attempted pass into midfield and Broaders scampered clear to go one-on-one with Gallagher.
Again, though, the Harps goalkeeper saved and the home support’s collective gasp of relief was audible when O’Hagan blocked the follow-up on the goalline from Nolan.
After a drab first half, one in which Harps were in control, they were fortunate to go in with parity.
However, they started the second period on the front foot having reverted to a more orthadox 4-4-2 with Michael Funston at its hub, penning Wexford in and McVeigh hit the side-netting with a volley.
After Cowan opened the scoring, Wexford required a change in tactics. But it was the side from the north-west who looked the more likely to score the second goal.
A succession of corners and some intricate football made that possible as the miles on the road started to tell in the visiting legs.
McNulty was denied a goal by a fine Doyle save from his header following Merritt’s corner on the 68 minutes.
McCarron’s penalty, which was awarded after McVeigh was pulled down by Shane Nolan, looked to have made the match safe for Harps, only for them to have a few nervous moments by the conclusion. But on the balance of power over the 90 minutes, the best team won.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Aaron O’Hagan, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle; Gary Merritt, Michael Funston, Thomas Bonnar, Ciaran Coll; Paul McVeigh (Shaun McGowan 90), Sean McCarron.
Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle; Craig McCabe, CJ Browne (Glen Hawe 90), Jamie Carr, James Dermody; Eric Molloy, Shane Nolan, Brian Nolan, Thomas Croke (Daryl Power 77); Dean Broaders (Joey Mulcahy 69).
Referee: Ray Matthews.