Finn Harps 2 (Houston 12, 67) Bray Wanderers 1 (Kelly 73)
Premier Division, Finn Park, 07 Oct 2016
Struggling Finn Harps gave themselves something of a lifeline in Ballybofey tonight. They put an end to Bray’s unbeaten run, and extended their lead over Wexford Youths to eight points.
Meanwhile, Bohemians leapfrog Bray after a valuable victory over Shamrock Rovers.
Former Seagull Seán Houston did the damage, scoring after less than a quarter of an hour to put the hosts ahead.
And the same player popped up midway through the second half to double their lead.
Bray substitute Dean Kelly, making his first appearance since late July, pulled one back for the visitors, but victory was just too big an ask.
Despite the absence of what could be described as their strike force, Harps opened strongly, midfielder Gareth Harkin, whose 100th appearance it was, involved early on.
And the home side almost took the lead on six minutes when his flag-kick from the right threatened, but Houston’s header was just over.
Ten minutes in, Ryan Curran had a shot blocked on the line by Bray skipper Conor Kenna.
Harps did take the lead on 12 minutes when Ethan Boyle was fouled just metres from the end line. Houston rose highest to head home Adam Hanlon’s floated free from the left.
The Donegal side could have been two up minutes later, but in acres of space, Michael Funston dragged his shot wide.
Wanderers almost drew level on 18 minutes when Hugh Douglas was denied by an acrobatic save from Ciarán Gallagher who touched his header onto the woodwork.
The home side were lucky when Danny McNulty nearly put the ball into his own net, but the looping clearance attempt landed on top of the net.
While the visitors had a brief spell of dominance, it was the home team who went close to scoring on the counter on the half hour mark, as Harkin and Barry Molloy combined to find Ryan Curran whose shot on the turn was well held low down by Peter Cherrie.
The Bray minder then denied Barry Molloy in the second minute of first half stoppage time when he pushed away his drive from the edge of the penalty area.
Once more the Donegal side went close to increasing their margin when minutes into the second period Hanlon’s work provided Curran with the chance to volley from five metres out.
The ball however took a touch off a defender before looping on to the top of the crossbar with Cherrie stranded.
Just after the hour mark, Bray created a further opportunity to level, Karl Moore’s cross not quite precise enough for Kelly, who had just arrived, and he snatched hastily at it and missed the target.
But a goal did arrive – at the other end. Funston’s throw in was nodded on by Keith Cowan before Houston at the front post to diverted it into the corner of the net.
But shocked though they might have been, the Wicklow side were still looking for their opening, and it came seven minutes later.
Harps keeper Gallagher came to meet Kevin Lynch’s cross but failed to make contact, and Kelly was left with a loose ball and a relatively simple finish.
Bray were denied what looked a convincing penalty claim in the final minute of normal time, when Ciaran Coll looked to have tripped Dylan Connolly just metres from goal, but Referee Paul McLaughlin, after due reflection, was not convinced.
Harps sub BJ Banda had late chances twice for the home side despite only coming on early in the announced five minutes of stoppage time, which eventually extended to eight.
Bray Wanderers: 1 Peter Cherrie; 2 Hugh Douglas (yc), 4 Conor Kenna (c, yc), 19 Kevin Lynch, 21 Tim Clancy; 3 John Sullivan; 16 Dylan Connolly, 8 Mark Salmon, 22 Darragh Noone, 10 Karl Moore; 17 Gerard Pender
Subs: 5 Alan McNally, 7 Ryan Brennan (for Salmon 60), 9 Dean Kelly (for Pender 60), 11 Jason Marks, 24 Seán Harding, 27 Chris Lyons (for Noone 82), 40 Lee Stacey (gk)
Finn Harps: 1 Ciarán Gallagher; 2 Damien McNulty, 4 Keith Cowan, 3 Ciarán Coll (c), 22 Ethan Boyle (yc); 18 Adam Hanlon, 16 Seán Houston, 6 Gareth Harkin, 7 Michael Funston (yc); 39 Barry Molloy; 9 Ryan Curran
Subs: 5 Patrick Mailey, 11 Tony McNamee (for Hanlon 82), 14 Thomas McMonagle, 17 BJ Banda (for Curran 94), 19 Joshua Mailey (for Funston 70), 21 Tommy Lee McCarron (gk), 31 Mark Coyle
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
Compiled by Mícheál Ó hUanacháin