Unfazed following the harsh sending off, Harps battled hard to take a point when they perhaps deserved two more, while Monaghan had to cope without their enigmatic manager Roddy Collins for over seventy minutes of the game after he was ordered off the pitch by referee Paul McLaughlin.
And although the visitors reduced the gap on fellow promotion hopefuls Cork City to a single point, they will view this as two points dropped in their march for top flight football. Harps, on the other hand, have now taken ten points from a possible fifteen in their last five outings.
There were three changes to the Harps side that defeated Athlone Town two weeks ago. Keith Cowan returned from suspension to partner Aaron O’Hagan in the absence of the outgoing Paddy McLaughlin, who went back to Institute at the end of last week. Blaine Curtis and Gareth Harkin replaced Mark McGoldrick and Gary Curran respectively, while Marc Brolly, Tommy Bonner and Mark Forker were all consigned to the bench once more.
Monaghan, who knew that Cork and Limerick shared a 3-3 draw earlier in the night, came into the game with a real incentive to take the initiative over their promotion rivals. A lack of conviction, though, meant it was the home side who bossed large periods of possession, even after being reduced to ten men.
Harps were denied the lead inside the first two minutes when Gabriel Sava pulled off an excellent point-blank stop on Kevin McHugh. Declan O’Brien had Monaghan’s two best chances of the opening period, firing aimlessly wide from twelve yards early on before heading inches over the bar from a delightful Keith Quinn cross.
The big talking points of the game came within a four-minute spell midway through the half when, firstly, Roddy Collins was sent to the stands for apparently contesting what he felt was a poor offside call to Paul McLaughlin.
The referee ordered the charismatic Monaghan supremo off the pitch and moments later handed out a straight red-card to Gareth Harkin for a high challenge on Sean Brennan, who was left clutching his knee but soon got to his feet and played on. It was a clumsy and awkward challenge but never a red card for the Letterkenny man, who played a key role in the engine room of midfield up until then.
Monaghan didn’t exactly go for the jugular after Harps were numerically disadvantaged but Ciaran Gallagher still needed to make a brave block on O’Brien as the interval loomed.
The expected onslaught never arrived after the restart. In fact, it was Harps that looked the better side for large periods of the second half. Four minutes in, Alan Byrne denied Kevin McHugh with a brilliant last-ditch block following a brave run and cross from Kevin Devaney. However, the ball was quickly recycled by Stephen O’Donnell who teed up McHugh only for the striker to head the wrong side of the crossbar.
McHugh continued to torment the Monaghan centre-half paring, twisting one way and then the other before letting rip with a wonderful 25-yard shot that was kept out by virtue of a brilliant outstretched save from Sava.
Ciaran Gallagher was called into action for a brief moment fifteen minutes from time and the Harps ‘keeper showed no sign of rust to palm away a curling 30-yard free-kick from Brennan. Harps, though, upped the tempo once more but yet again Sava was equal to McHugh’s best efforts – the Monaghan stopper pulling off a Gordon Banks-esque save following a delicious cross from second half replacement Marc Brolly.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Martin Redmond, Keith Cowan, Aaron O’Hagan, JP Gallagher; Kevin Devaney, Barry O’Mahoney, Gareth Harkin, Stephen O’Donnell; Kevin McHugh, Blaine Curtis.
Subs: Mark Forker (Devaney, 69 mins), Thomas Bonnar (O’Donnell, 72 mins), Marc Brolly (Curtis, 76 mins).
Monaghan United: Gabriel Sava; Aidan Collins, William McDonagh, Alan Byrne, Shane Grimes; Jordan Keegan, Eric Foley, Ryan Brennan, Keith Quinn; Declan O’Brien, Sean Brennan.
Subs: John Reilly (Foley, 46), Paul Whelan (Quinn, 65 mins).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.