Finn Harps 1 - 2 Waterford UnitedSat, Sep 29 2012
A pair of majestic free-kicks from Waterford United talisman Gary Dempsey ended Finn Harps’ ten-game unbeaten run as the Munster men kept their dreams of automatic promotion alive and kicking at Finn Park on Saturday night.
The midfielder gave a master-class with two beauties right out of the top drawer either side of half-time and although Kevin McHugh responded for the home side, the visitors held out for their fourth win on the trot as they cut the gap on leaders Limerick to four points with two games remaining.
Harps, who threw absolutely everything at Paul O’Brien’s side in the last 30 minutes, saw their hopes of equalling the club record (13) of games without a defeat end in agonising fashion, but did so with their heads held high.
There was real surprise in the Harps selection as Shaun McGowan and Paul McVeigh were omitted in favour of Thomas McBride and Thomas Bonnar, as Harps boss Peter Hutton deployed an industrious 4-5-1 approach in the hope of stifling their opponents’ attacking flair.
McGowan had started the previous 27 games for the Ballybofey outfit since rejoining the club at the start of the season, while McVeigh, the club’s second top goal-scorer this season, paid the price for his profligacy in front of goal during last week’s 2-2 draw at Wexford Youths.
Meanwhile, Peter White returned to the visitors starting line-up after missing out on last week’s win over Longford because of injury, while Paul Carey took his place on the bench following a one-game suspension.
It took some while for both teams to manufacture their first real chances but, after denying Michael Funston with a brilliantly-timed tackle, Waterford centre-half Seamus Long earned a free-kick at the other end from which Dempsey forced Ciaran Gallagher into a fine save down to his right.
Kevin McHugh, fresh off the back of his delicate chip in Wexford last week, attempted yet another ambitious lob midway through the first half. His effort this time around was from much further out and Packie Holden managed to get back in the nick of time to retrieve.
Harps, who were quite happy to sit back and hit on the break, were then sliced open with surgical precision by a glorious through ball from full-back John Frost to pick out Peter White ghosting in behind. Ciaran Gallagher, however, was alert and after racing off his line, the midfielder was forced wide, allowing the Harps rearguard the chance to get back and clear.
Funston and McHugh then combined to create the home side’s best opening of the first 45 minutes. Funston cut inside his marker before letting fly with an unstoppable shot that rattled both the crossbar and post. The rebound fell invitingly into the path of the Harps skipper but his effort from twelve yards was parried away brilliantly by Packie Holden.
The double dose of misfortune proved costly for Harps as Waterford broke the deadlock less than ten minutes later. Keith Cowan was adjudged to have fouled Long 25 yards from goal and after referee Ray Matthews cautioned the centre-half, Dempsey stepped up to angle a thunderbolt into the top left-hand corner, giving Gallagher no chance.
It was a sucker blow for Harps to have to deal with right on the stroke of half-time and just four minutes into the second half, Waterford and that man Dempsey inflicted even more misery on the hosts. Cowan’s defensive partner Thomas McMonagle was the guilty party on this occasion, conceding a free-kick right on the edge of the area and despite being closer in, the Waterford talisman still managed to find the back of the net with another humdinger.
But Harps didn’t accumulate a ten-game unbeaten run without showing a great deal of resilience along the way and within seven minutes had halved the deficit. McBride’s corner was cleared only as far as Funston and his drilled ball back into the mixer was turned home delicately by McHugh from a matter of yards.
It provided the launch-pad for a period of sustained pressure from Harps, their best in the game, as Waterford were forced back into their own half. McBride and Ciaran Coll played a beautiful one-two but, after charging onto the return ball, the midfielder opted for a pass across the face of goal when perhaps he should’ve been more selfish and gone himself.
McVeigh, having being thrown into the action after Dempsey’s second, went on a barnstorming run near the end but his cutback managed to evade both McHugh and Adam Clarke as Harps suffered their first defeat since June 29.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Thomas McBride, Thomas Bonnar (Paul McVeigh 53), Aaron O’Hagan, Matthew Harkin (Adam Clarke 75); Kevin McHugh.
Subs not used: Shaun McGowan, Jordan Duffy, Cathal McDaid, Dean McConnell, Shaun Patton.
Booked: Bonnar (34), Cowan (43), McMonagle (48).
Waterford United: Packie Holden; Dylan Mernagh, Craig Burns, Seamus Long, John Frost; Peter Higgins (Ben Ryan 88), Gary Dempsey, Peter White, Paul Phelan; Peter Keegan (Willie John Kiely 70), Sean Maguire.
Subs not used: Aidan McGrath, Paul Carey, Darragh Walsh, David Breen, Robbie Hughes.
Booked: Phelan (68), Long (75).
Referee: Ray Matthews.
Attendance: 550 (estimate).
Extratime.ie man of the match: Gary Dempsey (Waterford United)