Finn Harps just about got the better of Cockhill Celtic to advance to the second round of the EA Sports League Cup at Finn Park on Tuesday night.
Finn Harps . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Cockhill Celtic . . . . . . . . . 0
Ethan Boyle, with his first Harps goal, scored what proved to be the winner on 22 minutes.
But on a difficult night for the Premier Division club, they were fortunate to advance after being second best in a second half in which Cockhill created a number of good chances.
Indeed, the Buncrana club must be still scratching their heads, wondering how they lost this game.
In the closing minutes, they simply did everything but score with one effort scrambled off the line by Matthew Crossan and then right at the death, Garbhan Friel, flashed a shot across the face of goal and wide.
Friel was one of a number of former Harps players in the Cockhill side and he was a constant threat up front for the visitors.
Others like Gerry Gill, Malachy McDermott and young Ronan Doherty, also caught the eye as Cockhill did their best to upset the odds.
Harps manager, Ollie Horgan, accepted that Cockhill didn't deserve to lose.
“We didn’t play well,” he said.
“I didn’t think we had a great first half. The second half was even of a lesser standard.
“To be fair to Cockhill, they looked like the League of Ireland team in the last 15 minutes of that game and they're probably wondering in there how they didn’t get a result.
“But we’ve got over it by a lot of luck and we’ll move on to the next round.”
Horgan had made no less than eight changes from the team that started against Sligo Rovers on Saturday night with only goalkeeper, Richard Brush, Gareth Harkin and Nathan Boyle retained.
The manager felt his team's lacklustre display wasn't helped by the raft of changes to his team.
“To be fair to a lot of the lads, they haven’t got a huge amount of game time,” he said.
“There were a lot of changes, there were eight faces in that hadn’t started in Sligo.
“To give them a little bit of an excuse, some of them haven’t had match-time since pre-season and we threw them in against a very fit, organised and talented Cockhill side.
“The 'but' part is, I thought as the game progressed, they would have got into it that little bit better.
“But look, they just have to knuckle down and get back training and get into good shape for the next time they get a chance.”
Boyle's goal on 22 minutes was brilliantly finished and it came after a patient build-up with Kevin McHugh and Michael Funston both involved. Boyle picked up possession 25 yards out and drilled his shot in past Gavin Cullen in the visiting goal.
McHugh had earlier headed wide from a good position and later Raymond Foy was denied by a smart save from Cullen.
But Cockhill had their moments too in an entertaining first half. Harps didn't look all that assured across the back and Friel's workrate, coupled with some excellent deliveries from Gerry Gill, ensured a few worrying moments for the home supporters.
Frustratingly for Harps, they just couldn't get their game going after the break.
Cockhill got on top and continued to carry a threat coming forward. Ronan Doherty wasn't too far away with a curling effort ten minutes in and the same player almost got on the end of a good delivery from Derek doherty.
Harps had introduced Ryan Curran at the break for Michael Rafter and Horgan tried to liven things up again by bringing in Tony McNamee for McHugh.
McNamee certainly made an impact but it was Cockhill who continued to create the chances.
Friel slipped in Derek Doherty on 75 minutes but he was foiled by an excellent saving tackle from Ryan McConnell.
Jimmy Bradley had a close range effort well saved by Brush and Gerard McLaughlin headed over following a corner.
Then as the game enterted injury time, Harps had another big escape when Brush reacted brilliantly to save at his near post and as the ball ran free, Matthew Crossan was on hand to clear off his line.
But it was not to be and Harps were more than fortunate to advance to the next round where they will face either Galway, Derry or Sligo.
Finn Harps: Richard Brush, Ethan Boyle, Matthew Crossan, Ryan McConnell, Tommy McMonagle, Gareth Harkin, Michael Funston (Damien McNulty 75), Raymond Foy, Kevin McHugh (Tony McNamee 59), Michael Rafter (Ryan Curran 46), Liam Flatley.
Cockhill Celtic: Gavin Cullen, Kieran McLaughlin, Jason Breslin (David Coyle 75), Peter Doherty, Gerard McLaughlin (Michael Coyle 91), Malachy McDermott, Jimmy Bradley, Derek Doherty (Paul McKinney 83), Gerry Gill, Garbhan Friel, Ronan Doherty.
Referee: Michael Connolly.