Thursday 23 May 2019

Finn Harps hold all the aces

Soccer, SSE Airtricity First Division Series 23: Finn Harps 3 Wexford FC 0

Adham Masood, seen here in the last home game against Drogheda United’s Kevin Farragher, was on set-piece duty in Ballybofey
Adham Masood, seen here in the last home game against Drogheda United’s Kevin Farragher, was on set-piece duty in Ballybofey

Alan Aherne in Ballybofey

Wexford FC made the long journey to the north-west on Friday in good spirits after that gutsy home draw with Drogheda United, but it became apparent from an early stage that they would be returning home empty-handed from this SSE Airtricity First Division fixture.

Finn Harps are hell-bent on gaining promotion to the top flight, and they did what the Wee county side failed to do seven nights earlier by keeping the pressure on leaders U.C.D. with a commanding win.

On a night when the circus was in Ballybofey, located just a stone's throw from Finn Park, it was annoyingly appropriate that some serious clowning around in their own box led to Wexford conceding a giveaway goal in the tenth minute.

Harps attacker Mikey Place's kick to the right of goal rose into the air off visiting captain Ross Kenny, and the ball was there to be claimed.

However, Kenny left it for netminder Kelan Gaffney, and vice versa, with Place saying thank you very much by sticking his leg out and directing the ball into an empty net.

In mitigation, both Wexford players were lacking in match practice, as Gaffney was only back between the posts because Corey Chambers has returned to complete his studies overseas, while Kenny was making his return after a long-standing knee injury.

As the senior partner, captain Kenny should have taken command of the situation, although it could be argued that Gaffney was in a better position to deal with it as the ball was in front of him as he advanced from goal.

Either way, it all but put paid to any hope Wexford may have entertained of causing an upset, even at that early stage.

Gaffney and Kenny were the only changes from the Drogheda game, with the latter replacing the suspended Seán Kelly.

Finn Harps had won a couple of fruitless corners before that goal and also kept Gaffney busy with two crosses, while Adham Masood sent a brace of free-kicks from the left into the box. The first was headed clear, while the second was spilled by netminder Ciarán Gallagher but hacked away by a defender.

After that goal, the home side looked to strike again while Wexford were trying to recover, but newcomer John Kavanagh dragged a low shot across goal and wide.

Dean Walsh had a brief sniff of a chance at the other end after a short backpass, but Gallagher darted off his line and booted the ball out for a throw-in.

Kavanagh latched on to a short Gareth Harkin corner-kick and found the head of Sam Todd near the back post in the 17th minute, but the ball was cleared after he tried to locate a colleague.

Olunwantunmise Sobowale got a lot of power behind a shot that veered wide before Mark Coyle couldn't keep an effort on target, while a weak strike by Jesse Devers didn't worry Gaffney.

However, he was picking the ball out of his net again in the 24th minute as that high volume of pressure paid off.

A crisp passing move ended in success for Finn Harps when Mark Coyle pinged a low cross from the left to the far post where Devers met it first-time and drove the ball home from close range.

Captain Ciarán Coll wasn't too far away from making it three after playing a one-two with Coyle and latching on his neat flick back.

The corner count had risen to 6-0 by the break, but Conor Sutton cleared one at the near post and Harps couldn't capitalise on a couple more.

Wexford earned one more free-kick in an attacking position in the 40th minute when Dean Walsh was fouled, but Mark Slater's set-piece only found the welcoming arms of Ciarán Gallagher who gathered at the second attempt.

At least the visitors were a little more adventurous in the second-half, although there was never even the slightest suggestion that Finn Harps would relinquish their grip.

Their success was well and truly wrapped up in the 64th minute when one of just two corners they had after the break (compared to four for Wexford) was poorly defended.

Gareth Harkin guided the ball into the penalty area and left-sided centre-half Sam Todd rose unchallenged to head forcefully to the net.

John Morgan had done well to block a John Kavanagh just 40 seconds after the re-start, and the wing-half was denied again in similar circumstances by Kenny after Ciarán Coll had headed over from a Mikey Place cross.

The second of two successive Wexford corners almost saw them pull a goal back in the 56th minute. Adham Masood's set-piece went off a back into the path of Mark Slater whose glancing header produced a brilliant fingertip save from Gallagher, and referee Alan Patchell wasn't interested in Wexford claims that an attacking player was fouled in the immediate aftermath.

Owen McCormack made a vital interception as Olunwantunmise Sobowale sought to release Jesse Devers after a forceful run, while a free-kick and a corner by Adham Masood were both cleared before Harps struck for that decisive third.

Three should have quickly become four, but Mikey Place got under the ball and missed an open goal after Devers slid a pass into his path from the right.

Another player returning after a long injury lay-off, A.J. Lehane, replaced Ross Kenny in defence for the last 15 minutes, and the third and final replacement, Ryan Nolan, created a couple of good chances before the finish.

He tested Ciarán Gallagher with a clever chip in the 84th minute, with the goalkeeper tipping the ball over the bar for a fruitless corner.

And then he availed of a defensive error 40 seconds into the four added minutes to let fly with a shot from the left edge of the box that wasn't too far off the mark.

John Morgan also delivered the ball into the danger zone after an Adham Masood corner was only partially cleared, but Owen McCormack headed over as Wexford's quest for a consolation goal ended in vain.

The raw facts show that the team has now failed to score a goal in its last four games, including the three played since the departure of Damian Locke as manager.

And they will get a chance to test themselves against Premier Division opposition in Ferrycarrig Park on Friday at 8 p.m. when Bohemians pay a visit in the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup.

That's the first of two games in the competition at the venue this coming weekend, as North End United are relishing the prospect of taking on Galway United there on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Wexford's next league clash is also at home, against another promotion-chasing side, Shelbourne, on August 17.

Wexford F.C.: Kelan Gaffney; Liam McCartan, Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny (capt.), John Morgan; Conor Sutton, Paddy Cahill; Mark Slater, Adham Masood, Dean George; Dean Walsh. Subs. - Danny Doyle for George (56), A.J. Lehane for Kenny (75), Ryan Nolan for Slater (77), also Colum Feeney, Seán Smithers, Vincent Quinlan.

Finn Harps: Ciarán Gallagher; Jacob Borg, Niall Logue, Sam Todd; John Kavanagh, Olunwantunmise Sobowale, Gareth Harkin, Ciarán Coll (capt.); Mark Coyle; Jesse Devers, Mikey Place. Subs. - Niall McGinley for Coyle (68), Aidan Friel for Kavanagh (71), Mark Hannon for Harkin (81), also Peter Burke, Mark Timlin, Liam Walsh, Nathan Boyle.

Referee: Alan Patchell (Dublin).

Wexford People