Finn Harps’ bid to end Derry City’s 16-year tenure in the eircom League’s top flight ended in defeat last night at a sold-out Brandywell as City veteran Liam Coyle came off the bench to hit Derry’s second goal in a 2-1 win, in the first half of extra-time of the second leg of the Promotion/Relegation play-off final.
Following the 0-0 draw in the first leg, Harps manager Noel King professed that it was the First Division side’s destiny to relegate their north west rivals. However, the man who guided the Candystripes to a League of Ireland title back in 1987 ended the game as a spectator, as he and players Shane Bradley and Kevin McHugh were all sent off by Cork referee Alan Kelly.
In what was a poor spectacle played in a swirling wind, City struck early on through young striker Mark Farren. The Donegal-born 21-year-old made the most of a mix-up between Harps’ goalkeeper Gary Ramsey and his defenders to scramble home his fourth goal in two games, following’s last Saturday’s hat trick against Limerick.
Derry were content to sit on their lead, facing into the breeze and Harps had to wait until the 52nd minute to have their first real sight of Alan Gough’s goal. A superbly-drilled cross from Jonathan Minnock picked out the head of defender Declan Boyle but the former Derry player and current Harps captain flashed his header wide from eight yards out.
Derry should have doubled their lead and effectively ended the tie on 68 minutes when midfielder Ciaran Martyn, returning from suspension, fired a rising shot off the visitors’ crossbar and with twenty minutes remaining Harps top scorer Kevin McHugh saw his chip smartly saved by Gough.
Harps were clutching at straws now and shooting at will, but finally equalised in the fifth minute of stoppage time at the end of the game when McHugh hit his 19th of the season after good work by Damien Whitehead.
The game turned on its head in extra-time as Derry’s winner in the 101st minute saw futile protests from King who was eventually shown the red card. Coyle’s goal was hardly a piece of artistry as the veteran striker received the ball from a quick Martyn free-kick and as he went down under the challenge of Bradley, the ball rolled past Gary Ramsey and into the Harps net.
In the second period of extra-time tempers flared as Harps had Bradley and McHugh dismissed in separate incidents.
Filed by Johnny Proby