Two Mark Forker goals set Finn Harps on their way to what eventually proved to be a comfortable win over 10-man Salthill Devon on Friday.
The Burtonport native smashed a volley past James Keane in the visitors’ goal following a throw from former Newcastle United triallist Lee Toland, who was making his first start for the Ballybofey club.
Forker’s dipping effort, which was hit centrally, had too much power on it for Keane on just seven minutes.
Then, on 64 minutes, the former Letterkenny Rovers midfielder managed break the gain-line to get away and squeeze home a second goal from an acute angle to seal the game.
At that stage, whatever chance Salthill had was already evaporated as Willie Enulebe had already been given a straight red card.
Peter Hutton’s side haven’t given up hope of making the promotion play-offs in the Airtricity League First Division but poor form had hampered them of late, winning only one match in their previous nine encounters.
Salthill, managed by John Brennan, who introduced Killybegs native Shane O’Rourke for the last 16 minutes, have had something of a renaissance of late, with three wins from four outings prior to their trip to the north-west.
After Forker’s goal, on 13 minutes Paul McVeigh skimmed a daisy-cutter just wide of the base of the post at the River End.
Dan Cunningham, brother for Ireland international Greg, had Salthill’s first opening when he broke into space on the left channel and his devilish shot was saved well by Gallagher.
Toland, on the left, was lively to begin with and showed capabilities from both crossing and shooting and played in McVeigh on 33 minutes, only for the Harps frontman to trickle his effort wide.
Despite being in control for the most part, Harps were occasionally susceptible in defence. From a Cunningham corner late in the first half, Jason Murphy, unattended at the back post headed over.
Moments later, 39 into the first half, Barry and Craig Hardings’ give-and-go carved up the Harps defence only for Gallagher to get a firm hand down low from the attempt on goal by Barry.
Harps led at half-time but were far from convincing in front of the scant home crowd that barely reached 200.
Toland sent in another decent cross at the start of the second half but Michael Funston couldn’t keep the header down and then James Doherty tested Keane.
Whatever Salthill’s chances were in the betting in-running took a further dent with Enulebe, who led with the elbow, was given a straight red on the hour-mark for a robust challenge on Kevin McHugh.
The Harps captain was left with a bloody nose and required a change of shirt.
In McHugh’s absence, Forker grabbed his second and Doherty almost scored a third when he curled inches wide of the post.
McVeigh also saw a shot tipped over in a one-sided second half. Harps played the game out without fuss.
McVeigh was denied a spectacular third when he grazed the woodwork from a belting show from the left in stoppage time.
It was a result that will give the Ballybofey faithful some hope as they begin the last quarter of their campaign with a fixture against Waterford United on this Friday.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Thomas McMonagle (Aaron O’Hagan 74), Keith Cowan, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston (Pat McCann 78), Mark Forker, Shaun McGowan, Lee Toland (Sean McCarron 84); Kevin McHugh, Paul McVeigh.
Salthill Devon: James Keane; Evan Preston Kelly, Robbie Gaul, Alex Byrne, Colm Horgan; Dan Cunningham (Oscar Sibanda 46), Jason Murphy (Shane O’Rourke 74), Willie Enulebe, Craig Harding; Danny Campion (Marvin Lunga 82), Conor Barry.
Ref: John McLoughlin.