Three games into the new season and Finn Harps are already experiencing the trials and tribulations of life back in the Premier Division.
Finn Harps .. . . . . . . . . . . . 0
Shamrock Rovers . . . . . . . 1
On Monday night, Ollie Horgan’s patched-up side produced another hard-working and committed performance, but it just wasn’t enough to deny Rovers the victory.
The visitors claimed all three points with Gary McCabe scoring from the penalty spot on 70 minutes.
The penalty was awarded when Gary Shaw just got to the ball ahead of Harps' Richard Brush and then went down under the challenge of the keeper. With the help of his assistant, referee Neil Doyle decided to give the decision in favour of Shaw, although Brush did his best to argue his innocence.
In the dying minutes of injury time, Harps had appeals for a penalty of their own waved away when Michael Funston went down in the box.
On this occasion, Mr. Doyle, probably correctly, decided against awarding a spot kick.
It meant that Harps, for all their effort and endeavour, got nothing from a game that was closely contested throughout.
Rovers were the better side in the first half and created a number of decent openings. Harps were better after the break, but worryingly, they didn’t trouble Rovers coming forward, aside from at set-piece situations from which they always carried a threat.
Harps boss, Ollie Horgan, said he was disappointed not to have hung on for a draw.
“Did we deserve a draw? Possibly,” he said. “I don’t think we did enough to win the game so maybe we lost a point there.
“Points could be very vital but we got eleven draws two years ago in the First Division, but they were no good to you. We would have been better off doing what Wexford did - win 15 of them and lose the other ten.
“We certainly didn’t lack effort there. I felt we drove them back after they scored but they just had that little bit of quality.
“But fair play to them. Shamrock Rovers didn’t come here to play triangles around us. They came here with a game-plan and it worked. I’ve nothing but admiration for them and congratulate them.”
Horgan had made two changes from the side that lost in Dundalk on Friday night. Tony McNamee and Packie Mailey were in from the start with Michael Funston dropping to the bench and Ciaran Coll absent through injury.
Mailey, who missed the game in Oriel Park, was outstanding at the heart of the Harps defence. Along with Keith Cowan, the Harps central defensive pairing had their work cut out against Rovers’ Danny North and Gary Shaw, but Harps defended well and missed very little over the 90 minutes.
In fairness to Pat Fenlon’s side, they did manage to open Harps up on a few occasions early on with Michael Drennan shooting wide after fine approach play down the left by Shaw and then Simon Madden saw his shot parried by Brush.
Madden picked up a yellow card towards the end of the half after Drennan had again gone close, this time volleying inches wide of Brush’s near post.
The booking could have had ramifications for the Rovers defender in the early stages of the second half. Madden was involved in a confrontation with Dave Scully which saw the Harps man flung to the ground by his opponent. Fortunately for Madden, referee, Mr. Doyle, chose against producing a second card, deciding instead to speak at length to both players.
It was a big moment in the game. Had Rovers been reduced to ten men, their game-plan would surely have had to change.
Harps threw on Kevin McHugh after going one-down, and later Funston and Liam Flatley were also introduced.
They forced Rovers back for the closing 20 minutes and forced a string of corners and free-kicks which gave the visitors plenty of reason to worry.
But despite the odd goalmouth skirmish, and six minutes of injury time at the end, Fenlon’s team held tight at the back and they got the victory their overall performance probably deserved.
That’s three wins on the bounce for them and along with Dundalk, they are the only side with a 100 per cent start to their season.
Harps’ win over Derry City on the opening night means they are still clear of the drop zone.
They’ll take comfort from the fact that Bray Wanderers, Wexford Youths and even Sligo Rovers, are still without a win between them.
It means Harps’ trip to Sligo Rovers on Saturday night takes on added significance, even at this early stage of the season.
Finn Harps: Richard Brush, Damien McNulty, Ethan Boyle (Liam Flatley 83), Keith Cowan, Packie Mailey, Gareth Harkin, Raymond Foy (Kevin McHugh 71), Tony McNamee (Michael Funston 80), Adam Hanlon, Dave Scully, Ryan Curran.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy, Simon Madden, Gavin Brennan, David O’Connor, Maxime Blanchard, Michael Drennan, Gary McCabe, Brandon Miele, Danny North (Gareth McCaffrey 91), Gary Shaw, Killian Brennan (Pat Craig 67).
Referee: Neil Doyle.