A free-kick goal of trademark class from Sean Brennan earned Monaghan United all three points in this Gortakeegan encounter with struggling Finn Harps – and was the lone moment to admire in a dreary encounter between two sides who struggled for inspiration.
The first minutes promised a thriller, with Fabio O’Brien just failing to control Michael Isichei’s cross and allowing Ciaran Gallagher to prevent him sending the home side into the lead, and then Keith Cowan coming inches from connecting with Mark Forker’s cross in a brisk Harps counterattack.
But what followed was soporific. Harps, playing a high defensive line, were content to frustrate a United side that became increasingly hurried and inaccurate in their passing. Indeed, the visitors, while displaying a lack of ambition, might have gone ahead when left-back Gareth Harkin embarked on a bold run from deep that ended with a daisy cutter that travelled just the wrong side of Gabriel Sava’s left-hand post. Sava saved comfortably from a Kevin McHugh free-kick shortly afterwards.
A clumsy tackle by Paddy McLoughlin on Ryan Brennan gave United a 43rd minute free-kick in prime scoring territory. Sean Brennan didn’t disappoint, curling his shot low around the wall to beat a bemused Gallagher at his post.
Brennan went galloping through the Harps defence a minute later and was only denied a second by a combination of Gallagher and Cowan. But the half ended on a down note for the Mons when right-back Conor McMahon was stretchered off with what looked initially like a very serious leg injury (subsequently indicated as being less severe) to be replaced by Paul Whelan.
A more confident Mons bossed the early period of the second half. Sean Brennan threatened again with a powerful shot on the run that sizzled just wide, and John Reilly, meeting Ryan Brennan’s excellent cross to the back post with a powerful header, drew a spectacular flying save from Gallagher.
Harps improved their attacking game somewhat by replacing Garbhan Friel with the speedy Blain Curtis, but they couldn’t find the end product to match the substitute’s eagerness and endeavour. A Marc Brolly free-kick from distance, which evaded everyone in a crowded box and swept just past the post, was the closest they came to fabricating an equaliser.
Monaghan, not firing on all cylinders themselves, played the percentage possession game as the half ebbed out and were content to hold on to their slender advantage. Andy Haran got a late turn in attack in place of the subdued O’Brien, but got little or no supply of the ball in order to make an impression.
Monaghan United: Sava; McMahon (Whelan 45), A Byrne, P Byrne, Grimes; Reilly, Foley, R Brennan, Isichei (Marks 71); O’Brien (Haran 82), S Brennan.
Subs not used: Loughran, Tierney, Collins, Fitzgerald.
Finn Harps: Gallagher; McLoughlin, Mailey, Cowan, Harkin; Forker, Bonner, McElwee, Brolly; Friel (Curtis 63), McHugh.
Subs not used: McFadden, Doherty, Coll, Connaghan, McMenamin, O’Hagan.
Referee: P Caschera