Ethan Boyle stretches for the ball during Friday night's game against Dundalk. Photo: Stephen Doherty.
Dundalk showed all their class and guile to grind out a vital three points at Finn Park on Friday night.
Finn Harps . . . 0
Dundalk . . . 2
Both their goals came from Dave McMillan - who scored twice for Dundalk at the same venue last season.
On that occasion, the Lilywhites cruised to a 7-0 victory. Tonight, it was a much different story as they met a Harps team who put in another quality display, especially in the first half.
But McMillan broke their resolve with a wonderful finish on 33 minutes. His second, eight minutes into the second half, left Harps with too much to do to take anything from the game.
Still, Ollie Horgan’s side can take heart from another impressive performance. Perhaps with last year’s drubbing in their minds, they were more determined than ever to make it a difficult night for their opponents. And with Paddy McCourt such a threat when on the ball, they played their part in an entertaining encounter.
Harps, with Damien McNulty a surprise inclusion following his recent hamstring injury, showed several changes from the team that beat Cockhill Celtic earlier in the week.
Ollie Horgan deployed a 5-3-1-1 formation with two attacking wing-backs and Sean Houston and McCourt in offensive roles.
The system worked well and Harps enjoyed some good passages of play early on. Houston almost fed Caolan McAleer in front of goal but Sean Hoare’s intervention denied Harps an early opener.
Dundalk enjoyed a good deal of the ball but with Harps working so hard when not in possession, the visitors found it difficult to create any decent openings.
However, they were unlucky not to have taken the lead on 24 minutes when Brian Gartland, up from the back for a set-piece, saw his header come back off the post before the follow-up was taken off the line by Ciaran Coll.
But Harps were undone on 33 minutes when for once, Dundalk’s Niclas Vemmelund was allowed time and space to pick out a cross from the right and McMillan showed fantastic skill to caress his volley in past Ciaran Gallagher.
It was a goal of real class from Dundalk and it was enough to send them in at half time in front.
They almost doubled that advantage five minutes after the restart when McMillan flashed a Dean Massey free against the crossbar. However, three minutes later, McMillan did get his second, converting a Conor Clifford delivery in from close range.
Thomas Stewart twice went close and Michael Duffy was inches away from finding the bottom corner as Dundalk began to up the ante. But Harps tightened up again and a trio of substitutions gave them a lift for the closing period.
However, despite a late claim from the home side for a penalty and a Ciaran Coll volley saved by Rogers, Dundalk never looked like conceding and ran out deserving winners.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher Damien McNulty, Gareth Harkin, Killian Cantwell, Ciaran Coll, Jonny Bonner (BJ Banda 81), Sean Houston, Barry Molloy (Michael Funston 75), Paddy McCourt (Eddie Dsane 67), Ethan Boyle, Caolan McAleer.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Niclas Vemmelund, Dean Massey, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Chris Shields (Stephen O’Donnell 83), Jamie McGrath, Conor Clifford, David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff 86), Thomas Stewart (John Mountney 85), Michael Duffy.
Referee: Paul Tuite.