Previously top of the First Division table prior to the league game against Finn Harps in Ballybofey on Saturday night last, unlucky Longford Town suffered their first defeat of the season when a Kevin McHugh goal in the 22nd minute settled the issue.
The result lifts Harps above Longford in the table and with three games played, they are level on points with the surprise pace-setters, Mervue United. Harps boss, Peter Hutton, felt his team just about deserved the points after a closely fought encounter. “It was a battling three points, it was very much about grinding out the result,” he said. “It was far from pretty at times but in this league, it’s just about being effective and getting the job done and that’s what we did. “The second half was very poor. Obviously the conditions didn’t help, the strong wind and the bumpy pitch didn’t lend itself to any fluent football.”
Hutton was pleased to keep a clean sheet and also praised the performance of his match-winner, Kevin McHugh and strike partner, Sean McCarron. “What a great goal to decide it,” he said. “It was another well executed goal.” He added: “They are two quality players and they have linked a decent partnership.”
McHugh’s goal came at the midway point of a first half which up until then, had been bossed by the visitors.
So it was against the run of play when McHugh picked up possession on the edge of the box and moved the ball onto his weaker left foot before steering a wonderful effort just inside the post beyond the dive of Longford keeper, Chris Bennion.
Up until then, Bennion had little to do as his team took the game to their opponents. With a stiff breeze at their backs, they were well on top and even though they had been forced into two substitutions because of injuries in the opening 13 minutes, those changes did little to upset the pattern of play.
Longford’s best chance of a goal came when defender Willo McDonagh glanced an inswinging corner towards goal but Marc Brolly was perfectly placed on the back post to clear off the line. The Town went close again immediately after half-time when Keith Gillespie’s curling free-kick came back off the crossbar and Brian McCarthy’s follow-up went over the bar.
With the stiff breeze and bumpy surface making conditions extremely difficult, the quality of football was poor. That said, there were plenty of talking points not least when Longford were controversially denied a penalty when David O’Sullivan went down inside the box under the challenge of Thomas McMonagle.
The referee, Rob Harvey, gave a free-kick on the edge of the box, insisting that McMonagle’s initial foul was made outside the area. It was one of several decisions that prompted much frustration for the visitors.
Harps had chances of their own in the second half - the best falling to Sean McCarron who after a wonderful mazey run along the by-line, failed to keep his composure, shooting wastefully wide with only keeper, Bennion, to beat. Marc Brolly also volleyed wide but in the end, Kevin McHugh’s goal proved enough to earn a second home win on the bounce for Finn Harps on a bitterly cold night in Ballybofey.
FINN HARPS: Ciaran Gallagher, Damien McNulty, Matthew Crossan, Thomas McMonagle, Keith Cowan, Aaron O’Hagan, Sean McGowan, Michael Funston, Sean McCarron, Kevin McHugh, Marc Brolly.
Subs:- Paul McVeigh for Brolly (80 mins); Tommy Bonner for O’Hagan (84 mins).
LONGFORD TOWN: Chris Bennion, Noel Haverty, Daniel Purdy, Willo McDonagh, Brian McCarthy, William Tyrell, Keith Gillespie, Mark Salmon, David O’Sullivan, Michael Isichei, Colm James.
Subs:- Etanda Nkololo for Haverty (injured, 4 mins); Josh O’Hanlon for Isichei (injured, 13 mins); David O’Neill for Purdy (78 mins).
Referee: Rob Harvey.
There were two key moments in this game - the goal from Kevin McHugh on 22 minutes, and the decision by referee, Rob Harvey, not to award Longford a penalty on 65 minutes. Thomas McMonagle was definitely fouling David O’Sullivan as he made his way along the by-line before he eventually went down inside the box. The referee’s decision to give a free-kick instead of a penalty was dubious, to say the least, much to the anger of the visiting players and supporters.
Referee Rob Harvey didn’t have the easiest of nights. After a fairly incident-free first half, he was the centre of attention in the second. The penalty decision aside, he prompted anger on the visiting bench who felt he was wrong not to show red cards to firstly Kevin McHugh for an incident involving Willo McDonagh and then Matthew Crossan for an over the top challenge on Keith Gillespie. Crossan had earlier been shown a yellow card for time wasting and managed to avoid a second yellow despite a poor challenge on the former Northern Ireland international.