On a bittersweet night for Finn Harps, they failed to get the victory they needed to deny UCD the First Division title following Friday’s 1-1 draw at the Belfield Bowl.
UCD . . . 1
Finn Harps . . . 1
Harps needed to beat UCD for the first time this season in order to send the title race to the final weekend of the campaign.
And they looked like they would do just that when Sam Todd put them in front with just ten minutes to go.
But their joy was however, short-lived as UCD equalised within a minute - and that goal was enough to seal the league title.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Ollie Horgan’s side however. This point, coupled with the result at Cabinteely where the home side came from behind to draw 1-1 with Shelbourne means that Harps are guaranteed a second place finish in the division.
That means they will avoid the 3rd v 4th place play-off, which could prove to be a major advantage in their quest for promotion.
Friday night’s top of the table clash drew the biggest crowd of the season to Belfield - boosted considerably by a large travelling support.
Harps were without the injured Mark Timlin and the suspended Mikey Place while team manager, Ollie Horgan was serving a one-game touchline ban.
In Place’s absence, Horgan went with the experienced John O’Flynn in attack and the striker had an early opportunity but his header from a Jesse Devers cross was saved by the keeper.
The game enjoyed a very bright opening as both teams pushed into attack when the opportunity allowed.
Ciaran Coll saw an effort blocked away for a corner, despite claims from some of the visitng players of a hand-ball, while Devers had an opening only for keeper Kearns to intervene.
The Students had their moments too with Jason McClelland unable to keep his header down following Josh Collins’ delivery from deep.
Neil Ferrugia also created a chance for the home side but Scales saw his header off target.
Just before the break, UCD went close again with McClelland teeing up Ferrugia on the edge of the box and his shot goes just wide of the post.
The league leaders were dealt a blow in the early stages of the second half when defender Evan Osam was forced off with what appeared a hamstring injury.
The game wasn’t as open as it had been in the first, but Harps had another good chance just after the hour when Devers was released in on goal but just as he was about to strike, Scales got back to challenge. Devers still managed to get his shot away, however, Kearns was able to save.
Soon after and Harps go close again. This time UCD fail to deal with a Gareth Harkin free into the area and when the ball eventually falls to Niall Logue, the defender smashes it over the bar when he really should have hit the target.
Harps were in the ascendency as they looked for the goal that would give them the win they needed to keep the title race alive.
Paddy McCourt came on for his first league appearance in some time, replacing Mark Coyle on 73.
The Donegal side’s last roll of the dice came with 12 minutes left when they replaced defender Logue with the more attack minded ‘Timmy’ Sobowale.
In a frantic period of action, Harps got their noses in front on 80 minutes when Sam Todd found the net following a corner kick from Harkin.
But almost right from the kick off, UCD were back on level terms when Conor Davis was played through and he finished into the bottom corner.
That goal was to prove crucial because it gave the Students the point they needed to finally see off the Harps challenge for league honours.
UCD: Conor Kearns, Dan Tobin, Evan Osam (Paul Doyle 53), Josh Collins, Greg Sloggett, Gary O’Neill, Timmy Molloy (Daire O’Connor 71), Jason McClelland, Neil Ferrugia, Liam Scales, Conor Davis (Yoyo Mahdy 91).
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher, John Kavanagh,Ciaran Coll, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Niall Logue (Oluwatunmise Sobawale 78), Jesse Devers, Mark Coyle (Paddy McCourt 73), Jacob Borg, John O’Flynn, Gareth Harkin.
Referee: David Keeler.