Longford Town will go into the promotion play-offs with a confidence crisis after suffering their fourth consecutive defeat in the Airtricity League First Division – losing out to Finn Harps in Ballybofey on Saturday night last.
But with nothing at stake in the final game of the season proper Town manager Tony Cousins fielded an understrength side as some members of the U-19 side were called into the first team squad and the focus was very much on the first leg against Waterford United at Flancare Park on Saturday night next.
Kevin McHugh scored the only goal of the game 17 minutes from time when he stubbed home a shot after a pull-back from James Doherty, who was set free down the right by Michael Funston.
On a cold night the 428 attendance saw Doherty dismissed on 82 minutes for picking up a second yellow card, which was given for diving over the challenge of Craig Walsh.
In a tepid first half, the closest either side came to scoring was when Doherty’s backpass almost deceived Ciaran Gallagher. The Harps goalkeeper scampered back, only to see the ball strike the base of the post before he managed to smother, doing well to make sure his momentum didn’t take him over the goal-line.
Gallagher, two minutes before the interval, made the first real save of note in the first half when he got behind an Alan Kirby shot, after the Longford player had been set away by Darragh Reynor.
Craig Hyland in the Longford goal largely cut an isolated figure, although he was indebted to Alex Kenny for clearing the danger underneath the crossbar when Doherty’s centre was a taxing one. Other than that, McHugh swerved one marginally high and wide.
The side managed by Peter Hutton went into their final fixture with their fifth place finish in the table already cemented, while Longford Town will play-off with Waterford United in a bid to face Dundalk for a Premier Division spot.
The second half was equally pedestrian with Gallagher easily plucking a Tony Griffiths free-kick and the match appeared to be petering towards a draw, only for McHugh, as he has done so often before, to show his predatory instincts once more.
Ten minutes from time Harps came close to adding a second when Shaun McGowan, after a cross from Ciaran Coll on the left, forced Hyland to tip over the crossbar. Griffiths went close to a late equaliser for Longford two minutes before the end but his shot was blocked bravely by Thomas McMonagle.
FINN HARPS: Ciaran Gallagher; James Doherty, Keith Cowan, Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston, Shaun McGowan, Thomas McBride (Matt Harkin 74), Cathal McDaid (Gary Merritt 61); Paul McVeigh (Tommy Bonner 87), Kevin McHugh.
LONGFORD TOWN: Craig Hyland; Noel Haverty (Aaron Brilly 76), Craig Walsh, Chris Deans, Gary Cronin (Austin Skelly 61); Alan Kirby, Robert Bayly, Mark Salmon, Darragh Reynor; Alex Kenny (Brian McNamara 85), Tony Griffiths.
Referee: Ray Matthews