Goals from Adam Wixted and Gavin Brennan helped to lift Drogheda United above Finn Harps on a night that saw Finn Harps fall back to eighth in the standings.
Finn Harps 0 Drogheda United 2
Goals in either half gave the visitors the win on a night when a poor attendance of little more than 600 drifted into the Ballybofey night wondering where their spark had gone.
Bar a 15-minute spell at the start of the second half, it was a timid performance by Harps, who will feel as if they could and should have been on level terms by the time Brennan sealed the deal.
Harps haven’t been as defensively sound this season as had become the norm during Ollie Horgan’s reign – and there was a further addition for that portfolio in the manner of Drogheda’s goals here.
It felt like a deception to see Wixted able to adjust himself to nod back across Ciaran Gallagher from five yards for the opener in the 30th minute, directing home from a Stephen Elliott cross.
Just when Harps looked like fashioning an equaliser, Drogheda struck for a second time eleven minutes from time.
Sean Thornton swept wide for Colm Deasy and the full-back’s cross picked out Brennan, who steered a deflected shot beyond the wrong-footed Gallagher.
There had been much more about Harps at the outset of the second half and they’ll have felt as if they deserved an equaliser.
Paddy McCourt weaved his way into position, but rolled wide from the edge of the box.
The former Celtic winger turned provider with a gorgeous through ball for Sean Houston but, running onto it at speed, the Letterkenny man drove over the top.
Another piece of McCourt magic, with the ball glued to his feet in a crowded penalty box, managed to create an opening for Michael Funston, who ought to have, at least, called Stephen McGuinness into action.
Harps paid for their profligacy when Brennan doubled the lead – but it wasn’t as if Harps hadn’t been warned.
In the opening minute, Wixted fired off target after Elliott’s shot was deflected into his path.
Harps survived a big penalty claim in those nervy opening moments as Richie Purdy went to ground under a Damien McNulty challenge. Rob Harvey, the referee, took a long, hard look and appeared ready to point to the spot, but waved play on.
Early in the second half, Harvey had another lengthy glance when Elliott was taken down by Barry Molloy but, again, Harps survived.
Drogheda were League of Ireland champions as recently as 2007, but have just returned to the top flight after a difficult period for the County Louth club.
Pete Mahon is attempting to re-establish the Drogs in the Premier but, after winning their opening two games, they lost six on the spin.
Last week’s 3-0 defeat by Limerick was described by Mahon as ‘absolutely dreadful’.
There was certainly a renewed spark about them here.
With Drogs probing, it took a fine saving challenge from Ciaran Coll to prod possession away from Gareth McCaffrey, who ghosted in behind to take receipt of a long ball into the Harps penalty box.
They deservedly hit the front when Wixted nodded home and they might’ve had a second, but Brennan, finding himself free of Harps attention, powered a header into the Town End from Thornton’s free.
Harps were rattled. They had to wait until the 40th minute for their first shot, Caolan McAleer dipping from distance a little too late to trouble McGuinness, the Drogheda goalkeeper.
Four nights ago, three players left Finn Park in an ambulance at the EA Sports Cup game against Sligo Rovers.
BJ Banda, the hero of the hour in Friday’s 2-0 win over Derry, will be absent for some time with a knee injury while Packie Mailey and Harry Doherty will sit out a period after their nasty clash of heads.
Although Horgan was presented with several injury worries before this one, Funston replaced Jonny Bonner in the only change from last Friday’s line-up.
After Brennan’s second goal, Ethan Boyle headed wide from a glorious position and Harps had too much to do and not enough time in which to do it.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Kilian Cantwell, Ciaran Coll; Ethan Boyle, Michael Funston (Eddie Dsane 63), Barry Molloy, Caolan McAleer, Gareth Harkin; Paddy McCourt (Simon McGlynn 80); Sean Houston.
Drogheda United: Stephen McGuinness; Colm Deasy, Luke Gallagher, Ciaran McGuigan, Conor Kane; Adam Wixted (Shane Elworthy 90), Sean Thornton, Richie Purdy, Gavin Brennan; Gareth McCaffrey (Ryan McEvoy 90), Stephen Elliott (Marc Griffin 75).
Referee: Rob Harvey.