SSE AIRTRICITY LEAGUE FIRST DIVISION
Robbie Benson 64th minute strike for the home side proves the game’s only goal last night in Dublin
HARPS STILL TOP DESPITE DEFEAT
FINN HARPS GO DOWN AT UCD BOWL
FINN HARPS…………………………………….. 0
By DAIRE WALSH
Robbie Benson’s 64th-minute goal proved to be the difference between the teams at the UCD Bowl last evening, but despite suffering their fourth league reversal of the current campaign, Finn Harps hold on to top spot in the SSE Airtricity League First Division.
Consecutive triumphs over Cabinteely, Waterford United and Cobh Ramblers ensured that Ollie Horgan’s charges were at the summit of the second-tier table ahead of their 19th league fixture of the season. And following UCD’s heavy defeat to Slovan Bratislava in a Europa League qualifier just three days beforehand, they were hoping to maintain this excellent winning sequence.
However, although Harps midfielder Tony MacNamee and UCD’s Ryan Swan were issued with early yellow-cards, clear-cut opportunities were at a premium during the early exchanges.
UCD netminder Niall Corbet needed to be on his toes to deal with a dangerous MacNamee free seven minutes in, though, and the visitors were certainly offering a considerable threat from set-pieces.
Wilfried Tagbo was proving to be a lively presence in the Harps attack, but with 19 league goals to their name at the UCD Bowl ths season, the hosts were capable of causing problems for Harps in the final-third. Ciaran Gallagher was called into action to divert an enticing Benson free-kick away from the target 27 minutes in, before centre-half Tommy McMonagle was booked for a foul on UCD striker Swan.
Harkin had Harps’ best opportunity of the half from a 35th-minute free-kick, and Corbet produced an acrobatic save to ensure that the sides remained on level terms. This was to be the final contribution of the contest for Corbet, who was replaced by deputy Conor Mackey through injury seven minutes prior to the interval.
The second-choice UCD stopper wasn’t tested before the half’s conclusion, however, and thanks to the introduction of Conor Cannon, there was fresh impetus to the home team’s play upon the resumption.
Harps were largely holding firm in defence, but they were finding it difficult to penetrate a stern UCD back-four. A raiding Raymond Foy went down under a challenge from Swan in the UCD box after 58 minutes, but rather than giving a penalty to the attacking team, referee Andrew Mullally booked the Harps midfielder for diving in the area.
The prospect of a stalemate was beginning to loom large moving past the hour mark, but Harps were issued with a hammer blow on 63 minutes, when Packie Mailey was forced out of the action with an injury.
His absence was felt immediately, as from the subsequent attack, UCD finally broke the deadlock. Left-back Mark Langtry delivered an inch-perfect cross from the left-wing, and Benson was on hand to fire into the bottom corner of Gallagher’s net with much aplomb.
Harps now found themselves in a position where they were chasing the game, and as the final whistle approached, Matt Crossan and Kieran McDaid were introduced from the bench in an attempt to restore parity to the proceedings.
Kevin McHugh was marginally off-target five minutes from time, but after McMonagle was dismissed on a second yellow-card offence on 87 minutes, Harps ultimately came up short in the end.
UCD: Niall Corbet (Conor Mackey 38); Mick Leahy, Maxi Kouogun, Tomas Boyle, Mark Langtry; Samir Belhout (Jack Watson 73), Gary O’Neill, Robbie Benson, Dylan Watts (Conor Cannon 46), Jamie Doyle; Ryan Swan.
FINN HARPS: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Packie Mailey (Josh Mailey 63), Tommy McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Gareth Harkin (Kieran McDaid 85); Nathan Boyle, Tony MacNamee, Raymond Foy, Wilfried Tagbo (Matt Crossan 75); Kevin McHugh.
Referee: Andrew Mullally (Waterford).