Simon O'Gorman reporting from Richmond Park
St Patrick’s Athletic and Finn Harps played out a scoreless draw at Richmond Park on Monday night, the home side failing to find the late winner that marked last Friday night’s win at Sligo Rovers and letting their 100% record slip.
Both sides played similar formations, each with wide wing-backs and three across the centre, each with three central midfielders, and each deploying two men up front. But if the teams’ shapes mirrored each other, the respective lineups produced significantly different patterns of play.
Harps, sturdy enough at the back, were largely anonymous in midfield, while Pats were entirely comfortable along their back line and bossed the middle of the park for lengthy periods.
Simon Madden did as wing-backs are supposed to do and powered forward down Pats’ right flank at every opportunity. If there was going to be a breakthrough he looked the most likely man to provide it. Jamie Lennon and Rhys McCabe, meanwhile, were tigerish and scrappy in the middle with Conor Clifford alongside bringing a bit more guile to the table.
The Harps middle three may well have showed similar qualities, had they managed to gain more than a few seconds of possession at a time. But they didn’t, and their duties became mainly defensive.
All the ingredients seemed present, then, to herald a comfortable home win. But for all their dominance Pats lacked that one ingredient that separates out the men from the boys - a cutting edge up front.
Gary Shaw and Mikey Drennan ran hard and did their work diligently but throughout a one-sided opening 45 minutes, neither was provided with an opening worthy of the name. Indeed, Drennan’s best chance came from a 25 yard free kick which Peter Burke tipped around his near post.
Ciaran Kelly hit a shot left and wide of the Harps goal after 23 minutes after good build up play and three minutes later the best move of the half ended with Shaw mistiming his jump to meet Madden’s cross from the right.
More ruthlessness needed, then, from the home side in the second half but where would this necessary quality come from?
Drennan showed the first sign of it, snapping onto a loose ball and banging a low shot into the side-netting five minutes after the restart. Three minutes later Harps had a go, Sean Boyd catching a dropping ball perfectly only to his powerful effort blocked down.
Niall McGinley cleared the shed with an effort from distance a few minutes later but the Harps midfielder was finding more space and was starting to use it well. Mark Coyle, too, was showing some ambition and suddenly the visitors were looking lively.
A corner from the left was flicked on at the near post by Boyd and Keith Cowan, lurking at the back post, was but a couple of feet from a connecting with it.
Pats needed to reignite their evening and Harry Kenny sent on Brandon Miele for the ineffective Shaw on the hour. Three minutes later his well hit shot spun off a Harps defender and skittered just wide of the visitors’ goal. By golly, we appeared to have a game on our hands.
A super ball from McCabe almost sent Drennan clear but an unfortunate hop of the ball and excellent defending from Harps centre back Sam Todd extinguished the chance.
What Harps needed now was some Raffaele Cretaro and, for Pats, perhaps a soupcon of Chris Forrester; both came on within minutes each other, and just before Drennan again found the side-netting, this time from close range and an acute angle.
With fifteen minutes left the sense of urgency grew but there was always a misplaced pass, or a rushed, aimless cross to ruin the moment. Madden continued to plough down the right and Clifford continued to pick him out, sometimes with impressive accuracy, but Harps continued to be resolute.
With three minutes left Miele almost planted a driven cross into the far corner of Burke’s net from right out on the touchline, but unlike last Friday Pats couldn’t quite fashion a late winner and were fortunate not to concede one when Clarke held onto Todd’s powerful header from McAleer’s corner.
And so Pats are still unbeaten, Harps still without a win, but the result was as fair as it was frustrating, for the home support at least.
St Patrick’s Ath: Brendan Clarke; Simon Madden, Dave Webster, Kevin Toner, Lee Desmond, Ciaran Kelly (James Doona 82); Conor Clifford, Jamie Lennon, Rhys McCabe (Chris Forrester 71); Gary Shaw (Brandon Miele 59), Mikey Drennan.
Subs not used: Barry Murphy (gk), Darragh Markey, Cian Coleman, Jake Walker.
Booked: Toner (83).
Finn Harps: Peter Burke; John Kavanagh, Sam Todd, Keith Cowan, Jakob Borg, Daniel O’Reilly; Mark Coyle, Niall McGinley (Caolan McAleer 79), Gareth Harkin,; Nathan Boyle (Raffaelle Cretaro 67), Sean Boyd (Mikey Place 84).
Subs not used: Ciaran Gallagher (gk), Michael Gallagher, Mark Russell, Tony McNamee.
Booked: Cowan (22), Todd (58), Boyd (75), Coyle (86).
Referee: Graham Kelly.
Extratime Man of the Match: Simon Madden (St Patrick’s Ath).