Two-goal hero Paul McVeigh handed Finn Harps a welcome three points as Peter Hutton’s side withstood a fight-back from Mervue United to pick up their first win in three at Finn Park on Saturday night.
Harps skipper Kevin McHugh broke the deadlock for the Ballybofey outfit on nine minutes before then teeing up McVeigh for his first senior goal for the club on the half-hour mark.
But Mervue responded with two goals in eight minutes either side of half-time through a double from Alan Murphy to get back on level terms.
The second was shrouded in controversy as referee Rhona Daly awarded the visitors a penalty for an accidental coming together between Keith Cowan and Stephen Walsh, but Harps recovered to register their second win of the season over the Galway-based side courtesy of a second from McVeigh midway through the second half.
In the two previous meetings between the sides this season there has been ten goals coughed up and the last time they locked horns at Finn Park there was seven yellow cards and one red card, so it was no surprise they served up yet another thriller.
Hutton had been hoping to call on the services of recent acquisitions Michael Funston and Mark Scoltock but their clearances weren’t processed in time by the respective governing bodies and so the only change to the starting line-up that faced Limerick last week was the introduction of Adam Clarke for the suspended Thomas McBride.
Mervue were without goalkeeper Ronan Forde (fractured finger), Kenny Farrell (ankle) and Michael McSweeney (hamstring), who are all injured for the trip to the northwest.
Harps, with eight defeats from their last nine games in all competitions, were energetic and positive right from the get-go.
The home side went very close to finding the breakthrough after two minutes but McHugh couldn’t quite keep his first-time volley below the crossbar following a lovely slide-rule pass by Adam Clarke to release fellow wide-man Gary Merritt in behind the defence.
Clarke, starting in his first game since the 3-0 defeat at Wexford Youths in early May, then fired a stinging drive from the edge of the area which Conor Gleeson did well to parry away to safety, before Harps made their early pressure count with a sumptuous opener on nine minutes.
The industrious Shaun McGowan collected possession in the middle of the park before releasing Merritt down the left flank and the winger whipped in a teasing cross which McHugh dispatched with a well-taken half-volley.
Unperturbed, Mervue almost grabbed an immediate equaliser when Shane Keogh rattled the crossbar with a thunderous drive from distance that had Ciaran Gallagher beaten all ends up.
McGowan also hit the woodwork at the other end with a cross to the back post which fell invitingly at the feet of McHugh, who couldn’t keep his balance to tee up Cowan on the edge of the six-yard box.
Harps then doubled their advantage on the half-hour mark when Aaron O’Hagan did excellent to break up play in the middle of the park and, after he laid off to McVeigh, the former Fanad United man played a delightful one-two with strike-partner McHugh before firing between the legs of the Mervue goalkeeper.
Johnny Glynn’s side, though, weren’t showing any signs of throwing in the towel and Jason Molloy attempted another ambitious long-range strike which flew just past the left upright.
The visitors were then handed a welcome reprieve three minutes before the break after Gallagher failed to hold a routine ball into the area by Molloy, allowing Murphy the simple task of a tap in from fifteen yards.
Harps did have one more chance to re-establish their two-goal lead going in at the interval but Gleeson produced an athletic stop to deny Merritt’s 30-yard thunderbolt from nestling in the top corner.
Mervue were then gifted the chance to restore parity when referee Rhona Daly awarded a penalty to the visitors five minutes after the restart.
With the ball bouncing about in the penalty area, Cowan accidentally kicked Walsh, who was ducking to head the ball, in the forehead.
Initially, it seemed like the ref had stopped the game for the Mervue player to receive attention but, after pointing to spot, amid confusion and frustration from the hosts, Murphy stepped up to slam home his second of the game into the top right-hand corner.
Mervue maintained their momentum for the first fifteen minutes of the second half but they were sent onto the back foot once more when McVeigh climbed highest to head home a Merritt corner on sixty-seven minutes.
Replacement Matthew Harkin passed up the chance to put the game beyond all doubt in the final ten minutes but it didn’t matter as Harps held on for only their sixth league win of the campaign.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Thomas Bonner, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Gary Merritt, Shaun McGowan, Aaron O’Hagan, Adam Clarke (Matthew Harkin 76); Paul McVeigh Kevin McHugh.
Subs Not Used: Rory Kelly, James Doherty, Jordan Duffy.
Mervue United: Conor Gleeson; Noel Varley, Martin Conneely, Mike Elwood, Marc Ludden; Jason Molloy, Gary Kelly, Alan Murphy (Jean Biansumba 79), Shane Keogh, Etanda Nkololo (Brian Connolly 82); Steven Walsh.
Subs Not Used: Conor O'Malley, Damien O'Rourke, Barry McEntee, Andy Higgins.
Referee: Rhona Daly.
Man of the match: Shaun McGowan (Finn Harps).