In a dramatic game that was as much a battle of will as of football prowess, Harps battled to another playoff triumph against a resolute Drogheda. A large and vociferous crowd packed into Finn Park, the vast majority roaring on the home side. Mark Timlin returned from injury while Mikey Place and Raff Cretaro were also promoted to the starting lineup.
Trailing by a single goal conceded deep in injury time in the first leg on Monday, Harps started on the front foot and forced Drogheda back as the rain poured down at Finn Park. Just seven minutes into the game Harps worked a short corner routine with Ruairi Harkin crossing for Mark Russell to head home from close range. Finn Park was noisy before but it positively thundered now as the home crowd sensed their charges had turned the tide in the tie. Harps remained on top for the remainder of the first half although clear cut chances remained at a premium.
Drogheda came into the game after half time and forced Harps to defend desperately. Mark Anthony McGinley was called into action to deny Mark Doyle, while at the other end a swift Harps counter attack looked to have resulted in a lead goal only for Drogheda to somehow redeem the situation on the goal line.
The game went into extra time, and with the rain still coming down in sheets the conditions deteriorated further. The winner came in the second half of extra time as Harry Ascroft, a serial scorer of vital Harps goals, met a McNamee corner that found its way into the net to send Finn Park into raptures once more. Drogheda fought to the end and forced Harps into desperate defending in the final minutes. Every attempted shot found a Harps body in the way as Harps rode out the storm to retain their premier division status.
Home fans poured on to the pitch at the final whistle and the celebrations carried on long into the night as Ollie Horgan and his staff delivered another playoff victory.
Photo courtesy of Clare McCahill
Finn Harps: McGinley; Borg, Ascroft, Cowan, Todd, Russell; R. Harkin (McNamee, 93 mins), G. Harkin, Timlin; Cretaro (Coyle, O’Reilly ,103 mins ), Place (Boyle, 73 mins).
Drogheda United: Gratzer; Brown, McNally, Farragher, Kane; Hughes (Adeyemo, 96 mins); Meaney (Wixted, half-time), Brennan (Hollywood, 61 mins), Heeney, Doyle; Lyons O’Shea (121 mins)
Referee: N. Doyle (Dublin).