Limerick remain a point adrift of the First Division summit after bringing Finn Harps’ three-game winning run in the league to an end at Finn Park on Saturday night.
by Aidan O'Donnell
Adam Clarke fired home his fourth goal of the campaign to cancel out Garbhan Coughlan’s early opener, but second-half strikes from Shane Guthrie and Denis Behan finally broke the resistance of a very game, but limited, Harps side, who ended the game with ten men following Thomas McBride’s very harsh late sending-off.
Shane Guthrie came in for Pat Purcell in Limerick’s only change from their win over Wexford last weekend, while Harps remained unchanged from their impressive win away to Longford Town last Saturday.
The Shannonsider’s, who came out 2-1 winners when the sides met at Jackman Park at the start of the season, got off to a flyer and caught their opponents napping inside the first two minutes after Sean Brosnan’s cross was knocked down, somewhat clumsily, by Denis Behan for strike-partner Coughlan to bundle home from a matter of yards.
However, the home side were back on level terms just four minutes later following Dave Ryan’s messy clearance, which took a wicked deflection off defender Shane Guthrie before falling into the path of Adam Clarke some 25 yards from goal.
The Harps winger still had a lot to do but was given the time before drilling an unstoppable low-drive into the bottom left-hand corner past the helpless Ryan.
The fast start continued apace and Coughlan almost restored the visitors’ lead following an intricate move that dissected the Harps back-four all too easily.
Joe Gamble fed Behan on the edge of the area, who then released his strike-partner in behind courtesy of a delicate back-heel. Rory Kelly, though, was quick off his to line to produce a smart point-blank save.
Limerick slowly got on top and had the hosts, who went with a 4-5-1 formation for the second game in succession, well pinned in for the majority of the first-half.
Coughlan might well have had a first-half hat-trick but blazed over from the edge of the area before then slicing a near-post effort beyond the upright following a dangerous cross by the lively Brosnan.
Harps didn’t get the chance to venture deep inside their opponents’ half too often, with Paul Simon Treacy’s ambitious long-range effort the height of their attacking productivity.
At the other end, Rory Gaffney forced Harps’ recent new signing Rory Kelly into a fine near-post save before Ciaran Coll was on-hand to produce a brave block to deny Gamble on the follow up.
Harps’ somewhat defensive set-up was working to an extent and their opponents’ frustrations were summed up by a succession of three yellow cards picked up inside eight minutes near the end of the first-half.
Gamble was yellow-carded for an overly enthusiastic lunge on Adam Clarke before midfield partner Stephen Bradley was clocked for a similar offence, while Behan was cautioned for backchat towards referee Darren Coombes.
Limerick continued to press and almost grabbed a second with two agonising set-piece efforts either side of half-time.
A teasing corner by Bradley was cleared off the line by Ciaran Coll, who was positioned perfectly on the far post, while Behan tested Kelly’s reflexes after his twenty-five yard free-kick took a deflection on the way through – the Harps 'keeper doing well to re-adjust his footing before making an acrobatic stop.
The big-spending Shannonsider’s were showing no signs of letting up and eventually managed to restore their one-goal lead ten minutes after the restart.
Harps player/manager Peter Hutton did brilliantly to deny Behan with an excellent point-blank block but from the resulting corner, Guthrie climbed completely unchallenged to power home from a Stephen Bradley in-swinger.
Behan was thwarted again by Kelly moments later, the Harps ‘keeper doing really well to palm away a stinging free-kick, but the Limerick striker finally got on the score-sheet with twelve minutes remaining to make the points safe for Pat Scully’s side.
Bradley was once again the provider and after his corner was headed downward by Guthrie inside the area, the ball ricocheted kindly off Behan and into the net.
Harps, who rarely threatened in a disappointing second half, ended the game with only ten men after a woeful decision by the referee to dismiss McBride after a challenge that was actually made on the Harps midfielder.
Finn Harps: Rory Kelly; James Doherty, Peter Hutton (Barry O’Mahony 63), Thomas McMonagle, Ciaran Coll; Adam Clarke, Shaun McGowan, Thomas McBride, Thomas Bonner (Blain Curtis 55), Paul Simon Treacy; Kevin McHugh.
Subs not used: Shaun Patton, Aaron O’Hagan, Matt Harkin, Ciaran Greene, Hugh Carlin.
Bookings: Clarke (67).
Sent Off: T McBride (80)
Limerick FC: David Ryan; Shaun Kelly, Corie Tracey, Shane Guthrie, Shane Tracy; Sean Brosnan (Derek O’Brien 76); Joe Gamble, Stephen Bradley, Rory Gaffney (Gary Sheahan 88); Garbhan Coughlan (Paudie Quinn 65), Denis Behan.
Subs not used: Barry Ryan, Andrew Bhandarkar, Pat Purcell, Stephen McGann.
Bookings: Gamble (34), Bradley (39), Behan (42) S Tracy (61), D O'Brien (87).
Sent Off: B Ryan (81) - from the bench
Referee: Darren Coombes.