Graham Burke of Shamrock Rovers is tackled by Johnny Dunleavy of Finn Harps. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile (c)
Finn Harps 0
Shamrock Rovers 2
Champions Shamrock Rovers equalled the all-time league record of going 30 games without defeat as they defeated Finn Harps in a feisty affair at Finn Park.
This win extended their unbeaten run to eight games this season as they remain in joint top spot with St. Patrick’s Athletic.
But they got lucky against plucky Finn Harps as they finally broke the deadlock in the 74th minute following a hotly contested free and goalkeeping error.
Harps boss Ollie Horgan was hopping on the bench when the free was given in favour of the Hoops, and subsequently goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley spilled the ball and Rory Gaffney pounced to put Rovers ahead.
Horgan’s protestations saw him banished to the stand shortly afterwards and Rovers then added a second through Sean Hoare who headed home a free to seal the issue on 80 minutes.
The initial stages saw some fast-paced, quick-passing by both teams, with Karl O’Sullivan looking sprightly for the home side while Gaffney was full of running for Rovers.
The visitors had an early penalty appeal for a challenge on Graham Burke (who was booked) dismissed by referee Rob Hennessy, who was the man in the middle in last season’s super-charged FAI Cup quarter-final clash in which he awarded Rovers three penalties in four minutes as the Hoops came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at the Ballybofey venue.
While Rovers had the edge in the first quarter, they were unable to seriously test McGinley in the home goal - his main duties being to capably cut out crosses.
But Stephen Bradley’s side were gradually cranking up the pressure on Harps who found themselves increasingly camped in their own half, and conceding a number of corners.
Nevertheless, Harps went close to breaking the deadlock on 31 minutes when former Rovers man Ethan Boyle whipped in a delightful cross from the right flank but recent addition Johnny Dunleavy was unable to direct a glancing header on target from close range.
And Harps, who had taken only a point in their three previous outings, managed a couple of counter-attacks before the break.
The game really began to open up early in the second half with play swinging from end to end but both defences stood firm and one sensed a little bit of magic was required to break the deadlock.
Harps, who last beat Rovers in 2008, were giving as good as they got going into the final quarter and providing further evidence that the Donegal side are continuing to make strides under colourful boss Ollie Horgan.
Barry McNamee and Mark Coyle were buzzing in midfield for the home side and on 71 minutes O’Sullivan fired a dangerous ball across the face of goal but substitute Tunde Owolabi was unable to connect as he charged in.
But Rovers then struck with the two late goals to sink Harps.
Despite the defeat Harps - who face Derry on Monday - remain fourth.
Finn Harps: M. McGinley; Boyle, Webster, Sadiki, Dunleavy; O’Sullivan (Shanley, 84 mins), Coyle (N. McGInley, 84 mins), Seymour, Doherty (Russell, 64 mins); B. McNamee (TImlin, 84 mins); Foley (Owolabi, 64 mins).
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; O’Brien (Gannon, 73 mins), Hoare, Grace; Finn, O’Neill, Watts, Scales; Burke (Greene, 64 mins), Mandroiu (Nugent, 83 mins); Gaffney (Williams, 83 mins).
Referee: R. Hennessy (Limerick).
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