From goal feast to famine in seven days

Harps netminder Gallagher in superb form as Youths held to scoreless draw

Alan Aherne

Published 29/10/2016 | 00:00

Wexford Youths midfielder Lee Chin wins this duel in the air with Finn Harps captain Ciarán Coll
Wexford Youths midfielder Lee Chin wins this duel in the air with Finn Harps captain Ciarán Coll
Right-back Craig McCabe keeping tabs on Finn Harps winger Adam Hanlon
Two Wexford town neighbours together as Ethan Boyle of Finn Harps closes down Paul Murphy

It went from a goal feast to a complete and utter famine in the space of one week at Ferrycarrig Park as Wexford Youths and Finn Harps were unable to break the deadlock in their lower-table SSE Airtricity Premier Division encounter before one of the biggest crowds of the season on Friday.

Wexford Youths 0 Finn Harps 0

A campaign-high nine goals had been recorded seven days earlier as the home side survived an all-out Galway United comeback to triumph 5-4. It reduced the gap between Youths and Harps from nine points to six, increasing the possibility that Shane Keegan's men might yet avoid the promotion/relegation play-offs.

However, this was largely dependent on another win last Friday which would have narrowed the margin even further down to three. Unfortunately, with the spoils shared, it probably put paid to Youths' hopes of finishing in the safety of tenth spot once and for all.

And although the sizeable vocal Harps following were chanting 'we are staying up' at the final whistle, it still wasn't a mathematical certainty at that stage. Youths had a game in hand, played last night (Monday) away to Cork City, so by the time you are reading this report the situation will be a lot clearer.

Anything other than a surprise Youths win in Turner's Cross would indeed mean that they will face Drogheda United or Cobh Ramblers in the play-offs on Monday, October 31, and Friday, November 4.

However, if they won, another victory this Friday in the Showgrounds against Sligo Rovers, coupled with a home loss for Harps to Bohemians, would likely see Youths leapfrog them on goal difference.

There's a lot of ifs, buts and maybes there, and the likelihood is that the Wexford men will be battling for their survival and hoping to secure a second season in the top flight over two do-or-die legs against a First Division outfit.

This was only the second scoreless draw of the season, coming just five weeks after the first at the same venue when Derry City were held. And while Finn Harps had the better first-half chances, Youths were superior after the break so a share of the spoils was just about the correct, albeit frustrating, outcome.

There was one change from the win against Galway United, with Danny Furlong restored to the starting line-up and Aidan Friel dropping down to the bench. The positional re-shuffle saw Andrew O'Connor revert from left midfield to left-back, with Craig McCabe switching flanks to his more favoured slot on the right.

Chris Kenny partnered the very impressive Lee Grace in central defence once again, with the presence of Lee Chin in a midfield holding role affording Jonny Bonner more time to indulge in the creative side of his game.

The injured Gary Delaney remained the only major loss for Youths, whereas Harps were without the suspended duo of Damien McNulty and Keith Cowan, although the latter is a long-term injury loss one way or the other.

The vastly experienced Kevin McHugh, scorer of 174 League of Ireland goals, had to retire after losing a finger in a freak accident recently, while attacker Rúairí Keating was also unavailable for selection.

The prospect of another goal-feast perhaps enticed more home supporters than usual to venture out, and there was a very lively atmosphere in the ground on a mild evening as the Harps fans were intent on singing their hearts out after making such a long journey.

The visitors were first to threaten when Adam Hanlon shot to the right and wide in the fourth minute, while Josh Mailey headed clear when Jonny Bonner swung a free-kick into their area after Conor Whittle was obstructed.

Chris Kenny and Aidan Keenan combined but Danny Furlong was flagged for offside in the ninth minute, and there was a let-off for Youths shortly afterwards. An attempted Graham Doyle clearance screwed off his boot and he then fouled Seán Houston to the right of his goal, but Harps squandered the free-kick.

The Donegal side's netminder, Ciarán Gallagher, was composed throughout, and he darted off his line in the 14th minute to ensure Jonny Bonner's long ball didn't land into Danny Furlong's path.

Youths launched a good move from a Graham Doyle kick-out which was headed on by Lee Chin into the path of Furlong. The striker's flick found Paul Murphy who took a dive as he tried to round Gallagher in the box, with angry Harps players surrounding him to voice their displeasure before referee Tomás Connolly dished out an inevitable yellow card.

Ryan Curran fired over from a Mickey Funston pass in the 23rd minute, but he was offside one way or the other. The experienced Funston was being afforded a lot of space down Youths' left flank, but Harps couldn't capitalise.

Aidan Keenan and Barry Molloy were booked in quick succession before Funston could only manage a weak downward header from Ciarán Coll's high, deep cross to the far post.

The game's first corner arrived in the 31st minute after Danny Furlong was fouled in a central area and Jonny Bonner tested Gallagher with a low drive which he palmed around the post.

Harps embarked on a worrying breakaway after Bonner sold Craig McCabe short with a pass when Conor Whittle's setpiece was initially cleared.

However, the determined midfielder - playing against his fellow Donegal men - raced all the way back to the edge of his own box before making amends with a tackle to win the ball back.

Harps should have taken the lead from their first corner in the 33rd minute. Gareth Harkin took it from the right, and it went off a Youths player's head before dropping into the path of centre-half Packie Mailey who somehow drove his shot over the bar from only a few yards out.

A second Harps corner was cleared before the north-westerners came very close once more in the 41st minute.

This time an Aidan Keenan pass from the left into central midfield was intercepted by Seán Houston who bore down on the target before forcing Graham Doyle into a vital save, with the rebound falling to Ryan Curran who whipped his effort across goal with nobody on hand to guide it home.

Youths did have the last attack of the half, with Chris Kenny coming forward to hook the ball wide after a long throw from the right by full-back Craig McCabe.

Harps forced what proved to be the last of their three corners in the 47th minute, but it was cleared. Crosses from Andrew O'Connor and Conor Whittle were dealt with while Paul Murphy didn't connect properly with a shot as Youths gradually improved.

Whittle was wide with a better effort before a slide rule Lee Chin pass created an opening for Danny Furlong in the 53rd minute. However, goalie Ciarán Gallagher earned his keep again, diving low to his right to get a hand on the shot.

Adam Hanlon had a wayward effort at the other end before an Andrew O'Connor cross was nicked off Furlong's boot by a defender. Hanlon tumbled in the box from a Gareth Harkin pass but the referee wasn't impressed, while Chin couldn't get enough power on a header to test Gallagher from another O'Connor delivery.

A tremendous turn by Aidan Keenan left his marker for dead in the 59th minute and kick-started a promising move featuring Paul Murphy and Lee Chin before Conor Whittle brought the best out of Gallagher with a first-time effort that was tipped over for a corner.

That setpiece proved fruitless, while Furlong had to stretch to get a decent connection on a Whittle cross in the 63rd minute but hooked it wide.

Harps forward Ryan Curran struck the side-netting from a deep Mickey Funston cross, while Jonny Bonner was well off target from a Keenan lay-off.

Conor Whittle shot at the goalie after a defender misjudged a long ball from Bonner, while an even better chance followed in the 70th minute when Paul Murphy controlled Lee Grace's delivery in the box but fired over.

Shots were blocked in quick succession from Adam Hanlon, Seán Houston and Ciarán Coll on a night when Harps fielded one very familiar face in right-back Ethan Boyle, a native of Wexford town and former Waterford United captain.

Gareth Harkin was yellow-carded for a foul on Chris Kenny before Graham Doyle saved from a Hanlon shot which took a slight deflection.

Conor Whittle moved to right-back as the game entered the last ten minutes, after Shane Dunne came in to replace Craig McCabe who had a slight niggle.

Youths piled on the pressure in the closing five minutes plus four extra, all to no avail. Packie Mailey headed clear from crosses by Andrew O'Connor and Lee Grace, while Danny Furlong had a shot blocked for a corner on the left.

Whittle's teasing delivery was missed at the back post by Chris Kenny and ended up going wide, while Lee Chin tried his luck from long range but was well off the target.

The talented all-rounder then reverted to right-back in the four added minutes, with Whittle pushing forward again while Shane Dempsey came in to central midfield.

The latter saw a free-kick cleared after Chris Kenny was fouled on the right, while his next delivery was knocked down by Danny Furlong but Aidan Keenan's header didn't trouble the goalie.

Andrew O'Connor had a shot blocked after Gallagher initially got a weak fist on his cross, while Youths came close again in the fourth added minute.

Paul Murphy's long ball from the left broke on the far post to Chris Kenny whose powerful drive was well saved by the netminder. A corner arose, but when Andrew O'Connor's delivery was cleared into the path of Shane Dempsey, he couldn't get his shot on target.

Youths certainly couldn't be faulted for endeavour, leaving supporters hopeful that ultimately they will do enough to preserve their top flight status.

Wexford Youths: Graham Doyle (capt.); Craig McCabe, Lee Grace, Chris Kenny, Andrew O'Connor; Conor Whittle, Lee Chin, Jonny Bonner, Aidan Keenan; Paul Murphy, Danny Furlong. Subs. - Shane Dunne for McCabe, inj. (81), Shane Dempsey for Whittle (90), also Peter Higgins, Aidan Friel, Vincent Quinlan, Eoin Porter, Corey Chambers.

Finn Harps: Ciarán Gallagher; Ethan Boyle, Packie Mailey, Josh Mailey, Ciarán Coll (capt.); Mickey Funston, Seán Houston, Barry Molloy, Gareth Harkin, Adam Hanlon; Ryan Curran. Subs. - B.J. Banda for Funston (74), Dave Scully for Hanlon (84), also Daire O Baoill, Tony McNamee, Gareth Doherty, Richard Brush, Tommy McMonagle.

Referee: Tomás Connolly (Dublin).

PREMIER TABLE (before Monday's game)

PWDLFAPt

Dundalk312425672274

Cork City312074591967

Derry City3216115462959 Shamrock R3215710423252

Sligo Rovers32121010373546

Bray Wand3212713353943

St. Pat's Ath3112613403742 Bohemians3212515303641

Galway Utd3210814435038

Finn Harps327817224929

Wex Youths316520316023

Longford T322822236714

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