Longford Town maintained their place at the top of the Airtricity League First Division courtesy of a 3-1 win over threadbare Finn Harps in Ballybofey on Friday night.
Goals from Karl Bermingham and Gary Shaw put the midlanders two goals up before Matthew Harkin pulled one back right on 45 minutes. Colm James made the game safe for Longford with a 71st minute penalty.
For the league leaders, it was a useful win and one that enabled them to keep their noses ahead of Limerick FC, whom had trimmed their four-point cushion down to one before the midseason break.
Bermingham scored the opening goal of the game 14 minutes in following some indecision at the back from the home defence. Shaw was the most alive of all in the locality and he headed to former Shelbourne striker Bermingham, who slammed past Ciaran Gallagher from right in front of goal.
On a night when the Germany against Greece clash from Euro 2012 in Gdansk was dubbed “the bailout battle,” there will be monetary concerns in the north-west similar to Athens.
With Harps having obtained a figure of €20,000 from the Donegal County Council to keep them afloat at the end of last season, the dwindling crowd levels in Ballybofey will continue to provide concern.
There have been similar problems around Flancare Park since their heady days of almost a decade ago. But under the management of Tony Cousins there are continued reasons for optimism for the side in the red and black verticals from the ground the locals call the Flan Siro.
Harps’ best early chance came when James Doherty galloped down the right and crossed for Gary Merritt on nine minutes. The Milford teen was unmarked and made a true connection plumb on only to see his header go just wide of Craig Hyland’s post.
After the opening goal, the side managed by Peter Hutton, still missing the suspended Kevin McHugh and playing with no recognised strikers, almost got back on terms within eight minutes when Hyland appeared to tip an effort from Harkin around the post following a centre from Tommy Bonner. Match referee Adriano Reale, however, awarded the visitors a goal kick.
Despite trailing by a goal, Harps were the more assertive in the middle section of the first half, although it was perhaps a case of their innocence against Longford’s experience.
Former Manchester United winger Keith Gillespie – the most experienced on show at 37 - was caught in possession and Paul McVeigh scampered into space but was too reluctant to pull the trigger when faced with only Hyland and Chris Deans made an important tackle.
Longford, three minutes later on 33, showed their cuteness when, from an incisive attack, saw Thomas Crawley skip past both Harkin and Doherty before crossing to Shaw for 2-0.
Harkin’s goal on the stroke of half-time, when he rose with Gillespie, saw the ball plant into the Longford net when McBride was the architect. It made the half-time tea that little warmer for scattered home support on an evening more akin to autumn.
The second half opened brightly and the closest either side came to scoring again was when Aaron O’Hagan headed wide from another McBride corner on 65 minutes. McVeigh also went close with a header that was
deflected wide as Longford’s grasp of control appeared to be loosening a little.
However, they retained their advantage 19 minutes from time when James made it 3-1 following the controversial award of a penalty. O’Hagan slid for the ball inside of his own penalty area, unsighted though as substitute Jamie Duffy came around the outside.
Referee Reale pointed straight to the spot amid the protestations and James stood up. Ciaran Gallagher in the Harps goal got down to save to his right but the rebound fell straight to James who hammered the ball into the top corner.
Harps were a beaten docket at that stage as Longford proved just too long in the tooth as their promotion aspirations continue.
Keith Cowan made a welcome return in the closing stages, the central defender having been an absentee since the opening game of the season at Limerick with a broken bone in his foot. Harps travel back to Jackman Park next week but their form is poor, having now lost seven from eight.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Aaron O’Hagan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Matthew Harkin (Keith Cowan 76), Thomas McBride (Jordan Duffy 87), Sean McGowan, Gary Merritt; Thomas Bonner, Paul McVeigh (Shane McGinty 76).
Subs not used: Rory Kelly.
Bookings: Doherty (31), T McBride 39).
Longford Town: Craig Hyland; Noel Haverty, Des Hope, Chris Deans, Michael Lee; Colm James, Craig Walsh (Jamie Duffy 63), Keith Gillespie, Thomas Crawley; Gary Shaw (Daniel Purdy 85), Karl Bermingham.
Subs not used: Paul Hunt (gk), Gary Cronin, Niall O'Reilly, Jeff Flood, Sean Skelly.
Referee: Adriano Reale.