By Alan Foley at Belfield Bowl
UCD 0-1 Finn Harps
A goal after just 24 seconds gave Finn Harps the perfect start and ultimately an away win in the SSE Airtricity League First Division play-off first leg against UCD at Belfield Bowl.
Ciaran Coll was on hand to head home from close-range following a cross from the right by Wilfried Tagbo to give the Ballybofey side a dream start, with some of the crowd still making their way through the turnstiles at the south Dublin venue.
Harps, who went into the game unbeaten in seven and on the back of a 4-1 win over champions Wexford Youths six nights’ beforehand, defended well to hold onto their slender advantage.
The closest either side went to another goal in the first 45 minutes was when Gareth Harkin, the Finn Harps midfielder, broke clear of the UCD defence but couldn’t keep his shot on target.
In first-half stoppage-time, UCD’s Mark Leahy headed just wide after a flick-on from Conor Cannon when Gary O’Neill delivered from a corner-kick.
Collie O’Neill’s UCD pressed and pressed in the second half and with just two minutes remaining, Jack Watson wriggled free to break into space but Harps goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher stood firm to make an excellent one-on-one save.
Then, with the temperature rising, UCD missed another great chance when Leahy shot wide from 12 yards in a crowded penalty area as Harps struggled to clear a corner from O’Neill.
In the 94th minute, O’Neill went down in the box with Harps defender Keith Cowan in close proximity. However, referee Ben Connolly penalised the UCD skipper for diving in a breathless finish.
Harps welcome UCD to Finn Park next Friday for the second leg, with the winner of the tie then due to face the team who finishes second from bottom of the Premier Division over two legs for a place in the top flight.
UCD: C O’Donnell; M Leahy, M Kouogun (D Tobin 34), T Boyle, M Langtry; R Swan, J Watson, G O’Neill, D Watts (R Benson 57), J Doyle; C Cannon (Daire O’Connor 68).
Finn Harps: C Gallagher; D McNulty, P Mailey, K Cowan; J Mailey, G Harkin, R Foy, T McNamee, C Coll; (M Crossan 27) K McHugh (M Funston 78), W Tagbo (BJ Banda 61).
Referee: B Connolly