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Friday 17 August 2018

Ten men made Harps earn win

Finn Harps 1 Wexford F.C. 0

Ciarán O’Connor of Finn Harps tries to give Wexford F.C. defender A.J. Lehane the slip
Ciarán O’Connor of Finn Harps tries to give Wexford F.C. defender A.J. Lehane the slip

Alan Aherne

Wexford F.C. didn't get anything in terms of points from Friday's long trip to Ballybofey to face Finn Harps, but they certainly couldn't be faulted for effort or commitment as they set about redeeming themselves following the previous week's embarrassment at home to Drogheda United.

The visitors journeyed to the north-west under a cloud after that record 8-1 reversal, and their response to that major setback was arguably every bit as important as the outcome at the Navenny Street venue.

In that regard, Wexford deserve credit for a battling and hard-working display, suggesting that perhaps their no show seven days earlier was a mere aberration and they are, in fact, capable of working their way up the SSE Airtricity First Division table.

Indeed, they may well have taken a point home from Donegal were it not for the dismissal of Owen McCormack on a straight red card less than three minutes into the second-half.

Referee David Dunne didn't like his reckless late challenge on Finn Harps winger Ciarán O'Connor close to the left touchline, and the loss of the Kilkenny defender left Wexford fighting an uphill battle after a decent opening half.

From that moment on, a scoreless draw had to be the target, with manager Damian Locke and coach Carl Grehan eager for their charges to slow down the game as much as possible and play it at their own tempo.

And they succeeded for the first 20 minutes after McCormack's departure, with the frustration of the home fans a sure sign that the locals weren't happy with the way things were going.

Harps manager Ollie Horgan became a target from the stand, with cries of 'get the finger out' and 'change it up' leaving him in no doubt that the natives were restless.

However, it was an entirely different story after the 69th minute when the game's sole goal arrived. The O'Connor brothers, Ciarán and Michael, had been in a spot of bother over St. Patrick's weekend when they were detained for public order offences, but the ex-Dundalk duo showed what they're capable of on the field to crush the Wexford challenge.

Ciarán's cross from the left was cushioned initially by Michael, and when the ball sat up for the man with the unusual number of 96 on his back, his second touch directed it into the corner of the net just out of Kealan Gaffney's reach.

It had been a hard-earned goal from Finn Harps' point of view, as all of their constant probing beforehand had gone without reward, but that one decisive strike was ultimately enough to leave them on seven points after three games.

Wexford, with one match extra played, find themselves in the same spot as season's end last year, directly above basement dwellers Athlone Town whose general disarray forced them to include an outfield player in goal recently.

Friday's team showed five changes from the Drogheda debacle, with Kealan Gaffney, A.J. Lehane, Liam McCartan, John Morgan and Danny Doyle all starting a league game for the first time this season.

They replaced netminder Danny Bolger, Mark Slater, Shane Barnes, Dean Kelly and Aaron Dobbs, with the latter's involvement with the Under-19 international set-up a sure sign of the high regard for the talented Enniscorthy all-rounder within soccer circles.

Finn Harps were no doubt keen to thrive on any residual doubts in Wexford minds after the Drogheda drubbing, so it was vital to give nothing away in the early stages.

And while the side relegated from the Premier Division last year did engineer a couple of early corners from an overall count of 4-2 in their favour, both were dealt with effectively at the near post by the combative Mikey Byrne.

A.J. Lehane displayed good vision and awareness to spray a raking crossfield free-kick to Seán Hurley in the eleventh minute, but the Arklow man's cross from the left was just too far ahead of lone striker Danny Doyle.

The sting was taken out of a Thomas Croke shot to make it easy pickings for netminder Ciarán Gallagher, while Hurley headed clear from a Jesse Devers free-kick at the other end after Croke collected the first yellow card for a challenge on Michael O'Connor.

He was quickly joined in the book by captain Ross Kenny, and a probing Harps move featuring Ciarán Coll and Devers led to a Mark Coyle shot being blocked.

Playmaker Mark Timlin fired over the bar for the locals in the 20th minute after his original corner was only partially cleared, while two Liam McCartan flag kicks in quick succession for Wexford were dealt with by the Harps defence.

What in hindsight proved to be the one big chance for the visitors arrived in the 27th minute.

Seán Hurley floated in a free-kick from the right and it was met with a firm header by Chris Kenny, but the ball went across goal and wide.

It was the first of a number of dead-ball situations for Wexford in the opposing half before the interval, although rival goalkeeper Ciarán Gallagher wasn't tested.

John Morgan did send one speculative effort over the bar, but Finn Harps had the better opportunities prior to the break.

Their fourth and final corner from the right by Mark Timlin was met with a downward header by captain Ciarán Coll, but it veered left and wide.

Michael O'Connor then threaded a neat through ball into Jesse Devers' path, but Kealan Gaffney was alert to the danger as he hared off his line and booted it into touch.

Harps had a penalty claim as the action moved into the two added minutes, but referee David Dunne correctly ruled that it was a case of ball to hand rather than hand to ball after Ross Kenny stretched to cut out a cross from the left.

Wexford would have been more than happy with their lot at the midway point, but the game took on an entirely different complexion after Owen McCormack's costly rush of blood to the head.

They were always going to be feeding off attacking scraps thereafter, although in fairness they made Harps work very hard for that solitary goal and the precious three points.

Gaffney had no trouble dealing with a long-range shot from Mark Timlin, before Mark Coyle beat two men with some nice trickery but shot straight at the netminder.

Ciarán Coll couldn't capitalise on good work by Michael O'Connor either, while a rare breakaway saw Danny Doyle direct a weak header into the grateful arms of Ciarán Gallagher with his back to goal from a Seán Hurley cross.

It was from that re-start by Gallagher that the O'Connor brothers combined for the Harps goal, although they never looked like putting the game to bed by adding a second.

Mark Timlin and Liam McCartan picked up yellow cards in separate incidents before a triple substitution for Wexford sought to inject some freshness, while Ferrycarrig Park old boy Aidan Friel also entered the fray for Harps.

Good defending by Ross Kenny earned a free-kick and denied Michael O'Connor in the 84th minute, with the scorer later seeing yellow after a clash with the same player.

Harps substitute Lee Toland was also booked within seconds of entering the fray for halting a breakaway by tugging at an opponent.

There was one chance, albeit difficult, for Wexford to salvage a draw midway through the three added minutes when Dean Kelly let fly from a free-kick in a central position, but it was slightly to the right and wide.

And a late Michael O'Connor shot was blocked as Harps held on for the win to satisfy their supporters, whereas it was Wexford's third straight loss after that good start to the season away to Cabinteely.

At least they don't have to travel for their next two outings, as Shelbourne and Cobh Ramblers will be visiting Ferrycarrig Park on March 30 and April 6 respectively.

In addition, the FAI have yet to announce a date for the re-fixture of the twice-postponed series two tie at home to U.C.D.

Wexford F.C.: Kealan Gaffney; A.J. Lehane, Owen McCormack, Ross Kenny (capt.), Seán Hurley; Mikey Byrne; Liam McCartan, Thomas Croke, Chris Kenny, John Morgan; Danny Doyle. Subs. - Owen Wall for Morgan (81), Shane Barnes for Doyle (81), Dean Kelly for Croke (81), also Colum Feeney, Seán Kelly, Dean George.

Finn Harps: Ciarán Gallagher; Mark Coyle, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Ciarán Coll (capt.); Mark Timlin, Tommy McBride; Michael O'Connor, Jesse Devers, Ciarán O'Connor; John O'Flynn. Subs. - Adam Duffy for O'Flynn (72), Aidan Friel for Devers (80), Lee Toland for C. O'Connor (90), also Peter Burke, Eric Whelan, Mark Hannon, Liam Walsh.

Referee: David Dunne (Dublin).

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