Barry McNamee's explosive strike gave Finn Harps the lead against Sligo Roves in the SSE Airtricity League
Finn Harps came out on top in an action packed north-west derby against Sligo Rovers on a night of plentiful talking points in Ballybofey.
Finn Harps 3
Sligo Rovers 2
The nuts and the bolts of it - with St Patrick’s Athletic beating UCD 2-1 - are that Harps move off the bottom of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table while their defeated neighbours now have work to do if they are to rekindle their European adventures in 2023.
Barry McNamee, Ryan Rainey and Ryan Connolly scored the goals for the home team, with Rovers’ Aidan Keena grabbing a brace; two penalties were awarded and there were two red cards.
A McNamee screamer on 17 minutes put Harps into an unlikely lead, taking full advantage of the Sligo defence backing off and thundering a left-footed striker across Luke McNichloas from 25 yards at the Town End.
By that stage, Ollie Horgan had already been dismissed inside of 13 minutes when he picked up two bookings from referee Rob Hennessy in a matter of seconds.
The Harps manager made his dissatisfaction known with the decision of the official to give Connolly a caution and earned the same punishment himself. However, Hennessy didn’t appreciate the ironic clap of the hands from Horgan, so red it was.
Keena - who has scored five times against Harps in the previous three fixtures this term - drew a full-stretch save from James McKeown in goal just shy of the half-hour mark.
Four minutes later, Max Mata drifted in behind the Harps’ defence from a precise Lewis Banks diagonal ball and although the shot was enough to beat McKeown, Rob Slevin made a last-ditch clearance to keep Harps in front.
Harps, though, went one better at the other end to go 2-0 in front on 37 minutes, with Rainey rising highest amid a clutter of players in the penalty area to head Gary Boylan’s header past McNicholas.
Suddenly, Sligo were all at sea and with Eric McWoods’ pace causing trouble in behind, the American pulled back to McNamee to have a go at a third, which was cleared by Shane Blaney.
Only 90 seconds of the second half had been played when Keena pulled one back for John Russell’s team, with a smart dink over McKeown following Karl O’Sullivan’s ball into space.
In the melting pot, Harps went off the front foot in an effort two reestablish their two-goal advantage with McNamee forcing McNicholas to save then Ethan Boyle headed over a decent centre from the former Derry City captain.
Their bravery was rewarded as, on 68 minutes, Rainey was fouled in the area by Will Fitzgerald and Connolly’s spot kick was perfectly placed into the bottom corner for a 3-1 Harps lead.
Harps’ comfort didn’t last long as only two minutes later Connolly was dismissed for his second booking, going in a touch late on Paddy Kirk. With the 10 men sitting in, Mata glanced a header inches wide from an O’Sullivan cross and Keena scored a penalty on 82 minutes when Boyle tripped Frank Livak in the area.
It was all Sligo late on, with McKeown saving from substitute Kailin Barlow and substitute David Cawley while Blaney’s 95th minute header at the Towne End went over the Harps crossbar to the weightiest sigh of relief you can imagine from the home support.
Finn Harps: James McKeown; Gary Boylan, Rob Slevin; Ethan Boyle, Regan Donelon; Elie-Gael N’Zeyi, Ryan Connolly; Ryan Rainey, Filip Mihaljević (Dylan Duncan, half-time), Barry McNamee (Liam McGing 84); Eric McWoods (Mark Timlin 90+5).
Sligo Rovers: Luke McNicholas; Lewis Banks (Kailin Barlew 84), Nando Pijnaker, Shane Blaney, Paddy Kirk; Niall Morahan, Adam McDonnell (David Cawley 82), Robbie Burton; Karl O’Sullivan, Will Fitzgerald (Frank Livak 72); Max Mata. Aidan Keena.
Referee: Rob Hennessy.
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