Paddy McCourt looks to set up an attack against Dundalk on Saturday night. Photo: Thomas Gallagher,
Brian Gartland and Jamie McGrath got the goals to keep Dundalk in the title race and in the process, condemn Harps to another costly defeat on Saturday night.
Finn Harps . . . 0
Dundalk . . 2
The big moment of the game arrived just after the hour mark when Dundalk took the lead and it came just moments after the home side felt they should have been awarded a free kick outside their own box.
However, play was allowed to continue and when Dundalk won a corner, Gartland was on hand to head in at the back post.
Jamie McGrath scored the second right on full time. The goals were enough to give Dundalk the victory they needed to deny Cork City the title - for the time being at least. The Munster club will be champions if they avoid defeat at Bohemians next Friday night.
For Harps, it was another disappointing night. They’re in a real scrap for survival at the bottom of the Premier Division and even a point would have been considered a good result against their high-flying opponents.
Dundalk, with an FAI Cup semi-final replay with Shamrock Rovers to come on Tuesday night, rested several first team players.
They included two members of their U-19 side from the start in Jake O’Connor and Carlton Ubaezuonu. But they still had plenty of experience within their ranks and they started well with Robbie Benson almost heading them in front after only 5 minutes, his glancing effort drifting just past the post.
Harps were more or less at full strength with injury concerns Paddy McCourt, Ethan Boyle and Sean Houston all in from the start. They played well in periods of the first half with McCourt, Mark Timlin and striker Eddie Dsane involved in much of their positive play.
Dundalk however, went close again on 18 minutes when after winning possession on half way, they broke at pace and when Dylan Connolly set up Thomas Stewart inside the box, his first time effort drew a brilliant save from Ciaran Gallagher.
It was a wonderful stop from the Harps keeper and within minutes, his opposite number, Gary Rogers, was lucky to keep his goal intact following a bizarre incident at the other end. Rogers and Gartland appeared to get in each other’s way on the edge of the box. Gartland then slipped and with Rogers stranded, Dsane was presented with an open goal but somehow fired wide from just inside the box.
It was the perfect chance for Harps to get themselves in front, but only Dsane will know how he didn’t convert.
The incident, if anything, seemed to lift the home side and their supporters, and for the remainder of the half, Harps were the better side. McCourt was pulling the strings in midfield and while the home side didn’t really create any openings of note, they were well on top - Gareth Harkin unlucky to see his effort deflected wide after a great run and shot.
The half ended with Harps midfielder Timlin perhaps fortunate to only see yellow following a nasty tackle on Dylan Connolly right in front of the visiting dug-out.
It prompted an angry reaction from the Dundalk bench, and some heated words on the sideline.
Despite an early chance for Sean Gannon which was saved at his near post by Ciaran Gallagher, the second half was a much more laboured affair. Caolan McAleer replaced McCourt before the hour while Dundalk sent on Stephen O’Donnell and Dave McMillan.
The changes seemed to work better for the visitors who began to gain a foothold in the game and they managed to gain the lead on 61 when from a corner kick, Gartland rose highest at the back post to head in.
The goal was controversial. The set piece came after a decision by referee Paul Tuite to allow play to continue despite what appeared to be a foul on Houston outside his own box.
Having performed so well, the goal rocked Harps back on their heels. They introduced BJ Banda and Ibrahim Kieta in the hope of finding an equaliser and they almost drew level when following a set-piece, Killian Cantwell saw his looping header palmed around the post by Rogers.
But despite five minutes of injury time in a frantic finish, Dundalk held out and when the broke clear in the final minute, McGrath produced a classy finish to clip the ball over Gallagher and into the net.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher, Ethan Boyle (Ibrahim Kieta 79), Ciaran Coll, Killian Cantwell, Damien McNulty, Tommy McBride, Mark Timlin, Gareth Harkin, Eddie Dsane (BJ Banda 74), Paddy McCourt (Caolan McAleer 54), Sean Houston.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Shane Grimes, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Jake O’Connor (Stephen O’Donnell 61), Dylan Connolly (Michael Duffy 79), Jamie McGrath, Thomas Stewart, Robbie Benson, Carlton Ubaezuonu (David McMillan 56).
Referee: Paul Tuite.