A depleted Finn Harps put their six-match unbeaten run on the line against table-toppers Limerick FC on Saturday night (7.45pm).
The side managed by Peter Hutton have been in fine form since the turn of July and last Saturday night posted their second away success of the season at Flancare Park, the home of Longford Town.
The midlanders had most of the possession and the lion’s share of the scoring chances but goals are the currency of worth and Kevin McHugh scored the only one of the game.
“It was a great three points for us,” Hutton said this week. “It was a real battling performance and it was probably a game that wasn’t for the purists. We didn’t really give a good account of ourselves in the first half but came more into it after the break and Kevin took his goal really well. We were delighted with the three points.”
However, despite the positivity from the run of late, Hutton will have a number of selection issues. Thomas McBride serves the last match of his lenghy ban, while McHugh is also suspended following an accumulation of cautions.
Winger Gary Merritt, defender Thomas McMonagle and midfielder Tommy Bonner all have groin strains. McMonagle went off injured in Longford and has not trained all week, which means he’s extremely doubtful, as is Milford native Merritt. Bonner, on the other had, faces a race against the clock.
Adam Clarke returned from Flancare on crutches after a sprained ankle and substitute goalkeeper Rory Kelly is currently carrying a shoulder injury. July singings Michael Funston and Mark Scoltock remain sidelined as well. Funston’s ankle appears to have slight ligament damage and bone bruising, while central defender Scoltock is still out with a back spasm suffered in Waterford last month. Then, of course, there’s the three long term cruciate victims - Stephen O’Donnell. Blain Curtis and Hugh Carlin.
“We basically have a whole team of players unavailable for the weekend but, as I’ve said before, it’s an opportunity for others to come in an show us what they have,” Hutton added. “We’re looking forward to seeing against Limerick where we’re at, having lost to them three times already this season.”
Pat Scully’s team are currently in prime position to win the Airtricity League First Division, sitting six points clear on 49 points of second-placed Waterford and Longford. Five wins from seven will guarantee top spot. Athlone are fourth on 28 points, one point in front of Harps.
In the three matches between the sides to date, Harps have been whitewashed. They went down by two goals to one on the opening night of the season at Jackman Park in March when Padraic Quinn and Rory Gaffney scored first half goals for the hosts, while Clarke pulled one back for Harps.
In the April meeting of the teams at Finn Park, Clarke opened the scoring but it was Limerick who left with a 3-1 win. Garbhan Coughlan, Castlefin native Shane Guthrie and Denis Behan were the goalscorers on a night when both teams finished with 10 men after McBride and Barry Ryan were dismissed in the closing stages.
Limerick were also comfortable winners in the most recent of the three clashes with Behan, Shane Treacy and Rory Gaffney on the mark in late June, when McBride was dismissed again.
“Limerick are more or less a Premier Division team in waiting,” Hutton added. “They can see the finish line now and will be taking it one game at the time as they try to win the league. We’re short a few but won’t fear Limerick. We have done reasonably well against them in spells this season but will need to be at our best over 90 minutes on Saturday to get anything from this game.”
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