Finn Harps’ inabilities to defend dead balls proved their undoing as they fell to a third successive loss in the Airtricity League First Division, this time against Athlone Town on Saturday night.
A controversial first half goal from Stephen Relihan gave Athlone the lead and although Kevin McHugh levelled for the home team, Brian McCarthy was on hand to head a winning goal for the midlanders. Midfielder Relihan poked home a scrappy opening goal on 28 minutes as the Harps defence failed to clear a corner from Garbhan Broughall but the bone of contention from the Twin Towns outfit was the awarding of the corner.
Referee Conor Fitzgerald seemed to be the only man in the ground who thought a defender had headed a Broughall free wide when McCarthy missed the target with a cleanly won header.
After their 3-1 reversal against Limerick FC and the 3-0 loss at the hands of Mervue United some eight nights’ beforehand, Harps director of football Felix Healy had promised to ring the changes and made five alterations.
Out went James Doherty, player-manager Peter Hutton, Paul Simon Treacy, Blain Curtis and Adam Clarke and in came Tommy Bonner, Ciaran Greene, Aaron O’Hagan, Hugh Carlin and Gary Merritt. Harps’ plans, though, were disrupted when Carlin hobbled off inside of 10 minutes and was replaced by Curtis.
Despite that, the hosts started reasonably well. A superbly executed dipping volley from Shane McGinty was the closest either team came to an early opening goal, only for Patrick Jennings to tip the ball over whilst stretching backwards.
Substitute Curtis, within a minute of Athlone’s opener, spurned a good chance when he scampered away only to see his shot on goal strike the outside of the post.
There was an air of uncertainty in the home defence in Hutton’s absence as the second half began. Relihan came through a pack of players to get the touch only for Rory Kelly in the Harps goal to save, before McHugh restored parity. The Harps captain sneaked in
between the central defensive pairing of Tommy Barrett and McCarthy and rolled home five minutes after the restart.
However, McCarthy made up for the misdemeanour on 62 minutes when he headed somewhat unconventionally home. Following another corner from Broughall, the centre-half rose well but headed into the ground. None of the home defenders or goalkeeper put their name on the ball and it sneaked over the line.
Shaun McGowan wasn’t far from a second leveller but his shot flew just wide of the post in a packed penalty area at the Town End goal. But that was as close as they came in an ultimately poor game as Athlone, through two scrappy goals, held on for a useful away win.
Finn Harps: Rory Kelly; Tommy Bonner, Aaron O’Hagan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Greene; Gary Merritt, Hugh Friel (Blain Curtis 10), Shaun McGowan, Ciaran Coll (Paul Simon Treacy 70); Shane McGinty, Kevin McHugh.
Subs Not Used: Shaun Patton. James Doherty, Paul McVeigh, Matt Harkin, Barry O’Mahony.
Bookings: McMonagle (56), McHugh (59).
Athlone Town: Pat Jennings; Niall Scullion, Tommy Barrett, Brian McCarthy, Ross Kenny; Garbhan Broughall, Stephen Relihan, Damien Rushe (Darren Coleman 71), Jason Hughes; Brian Gill (Kevin Williamson 86), Noel McGee (Sean Geurins 75).
Subs Not Used: Warren Conroy, Val Feeney, Ian Sweeney.
Bookings: Gill (56).
Referee: Conor Fitzgerald.