Finn Harps went down 5-3 to Bray Wanderers in an eight-goal thriller at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday.
Two early goals saw Bray take command although Harps battled their way back with Ciaran O’Connor netting twice and Ethan Boyle heading home, but a controversial night saw Harps leave empty handed.
Chris McNulty looks at some of the talking points from the game …
- Ciaran O’Connor starts well in the #10 shirt
Filling the void left by Kevin McHugh was always going to be a tough ask, given the Killea man’s legendary status in Ballybofey.
Even if McHugh’s game time had been limited in the latter end of his spell with the club, the number 10 shirt was his and his alone.
But Ciaran O’Connor has already endeared himself to the Finn Park faithful.
A hard-working display against Cork City on the season’s opening night was followed by a brace of goals in Bray.
O’Connor’s first was a real striker’s goal, pouncing after a Caolan McAleer free kick flicked back off the crossbar.
The on-loan Dundalk striker harbours hopes of getting back to Oriel Park in the summer and he showed his worth with the second goal. After taking a ball down the left from Ciaran Coll, O’Connor did well to work the chance and, though Peter Cherrie got hands behind the effort, he was powerless to stop it.
- Harry Doherty shows he’s up to the task
When Ciaran Gallagher was forced off on the hour, after shipping a heavy knock to the head, Harry Doherty was quickly ushered from the bench.
Doherty had little time to get himself prepared for his senior debut and he was still strapping on his gloves as he entered the fray.
The 20-year-old was thrown in at the deep end, but in the last half-an-hour he proved himself to be well able for life in the Premier Division.
Last season, Ollie Horgan captured former Sligo Rovers goalkeeper Richard Brush, who shared the duties with Gallagher.
Doherty might well be in the reckoning now after an excellent debut.
It was easy to see why Noel King called him into a home-based Republic of Ireland Under-21 squad recently and the former Charlton and Brighton man, who signed for Harps from USL side Cockhill Celtic in the closed season, made a string of fine saves.
Doherty initially saved well from Dylan Connolly, who then steered home the rebound, but the Harps sub made stops Connolly and Gary McCabe in the closing stages.
- Cowan absence really being felt
It is not something that would be associated with Ollie Horgan’s Harps, but they are looking worryingly brittle at the back end in the early moments of the new season.
Bray scored five and had a handful of other chances that could have gone in.
It isn’t like Harps to pass up so many opportunities and it is something that, already, is beginning to hurt them.
Keith Cowan has been a rock at the heart of the Harps rearguard, but a horrific knee injury means that he’ll sit out the bulk of the 2017 campaign.
Perhaps only now, in his absence, are Harps seeing Cowan’s true worth. Packie Mailey hasn’t started any of the two games so far. Mailey is another one for the trenches and perhaps Harps could do with partnering Mailey with Killian Cantwell, to enable Damien McNulty return to his sentry on the right.
Harps need to get back to looking formidable at the back again – before it’s too late.
- Harps must start putting points on the board
The League table is even now, just two games in, taking shape. Harps are one of five teams with no points from the opening two weekends – but now the enter what is an-already crucial period.
In the next month, Harps face Galway United, Sligo Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic – three of the sides who have also yet to get off the mark.
With the format of three teams being relegated, staying in touch and avoiding being cut adrift is imperative for Harps.
It means that Friday’s home game against Galway United could already be described as being of the ‘must win’ variety. Moral victories at this level count for very little.
- Buttimer bears the brunt of Harps ire
Not for the first time, referee Anthony Buttimer was on the receiving end of sharp criticism from Finn Harps.
Buttimer could reflect on a night when he erred so many times with big calls in the game – and they proved so costly for Harps.
Ollie Horgan was understandably coy afterwards when asked about the decisions; a wise call given that any volume of anger from Horgan would have been met with sanction by the FAI.
But it was hard not to sympathise with Harps here.
Ethan Boyle was very harshly judged to have fouled Connolly for the free kick from which Bray opened the scoring; Michael Funston was outside the box for the handball that resulted in Buttimer awarding a penalty; and the referee allowed play continue with Ciaran Gallagher grounded following a clash of heads and McCabe netted.
All of that was after he waved away Harps appeals for an early penalty when Sean Houston appeared to have been fouled in the area, while Horgan also pointed to a handball late in the day that went unpunished.
It was one of those nights.Tags: