Tunde Owolabi grabbed a stunning hat-trick as Finn Harps thwarted any hope St Patrick's Athletic may have had of matching Shamrock Rovers’ points tally at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
The Harps support have taken the Belgian to heart this season and tonight, as well as being a complete thorn in the side of the Inchicore team leading the line, the standard of his finishing was top drawer.
St Pat’s started brightly, with Nahum Melvin-Lambert hitting the side-netting, forced four corners inside of 10 minutes as it looked as though the trend of the previous two meetings this term would continue.
At the other end Owolabi was dragging the visiting defence here and there and his first sight of goal drew a save down low from Vitezslav Jaros.
Then, from the next attack, the Belgian, now on the left, cut inside and with considerable aplomb and, swept the ball into the bottom corner to give Ollie Horgan’s team the lead on 12 minutes. However, it didn’t take long for St Pat’s to level - just two minutes in fact.
Dave Webster might have been penalised for a challenge on Melvin-Lambert right in front of the Harps goal and as the ball made its way across goal Barry McNamee handled. Forrester put the penalty past Mark Anthony McGinley, who guessed the right way but was beaten by the power and placement for 1-1.
Again, Owolabi got in behind and the ball sat up invitingly and his strike was true only to dip too late as it flew over the crossbar. Three minutes before the break, Owolabi got his second. Still with plenty to do having picked up a pass from McNamee, he made space and hammered low across the brows of Jaros for a 2-1 half-time home lead.
Finn Park can test anyone, although Stephen O’Donnell’s team got things as comfortably as they might’ve imagined in a 2-0 win on their last visit to the Twin Towns in April, with Billy King and Matty Smith on target. There was a 4-1 home win at Richmond Park in the return.
O’Donnell made three switches at the break - with Jack Hickman, Ronan Coughlan and Darragh Burns coming in - but it was Harps who continued on the front foot. Owolabi completed his hat-trick on 54 minutes when he was adjudged to have sprung the offside trap from a Ryan Connolly pass as St Pat’s sought a flag that never came.
Owolabi strode towards the Town End, with the freedom of half the park and opted to round Jaros on the outside to the delight of Finn Park, with the old ground rocking with 800 permitted fans and the away fans for the first time since losing 4-0 to Dundalk in March 2020.
Harps sat in and two to the good, had something to hold onto with Owolabi the man to rustle feathers on the break. Coughlan saw a free-kick flash inches with and Kyrian Nwoko’s neat turn was unfortunate to hit the base of the post.
Harps, though, carried a significant threat. McNamee had an effort on goal that was headed just over by Hickman and Owolabi had a couple of chances to bring his tally to four, with the closest being a header inches wide.
When he was replaced with four minutes to play, he was greeted to a standing ovation having become the first Harps player to bag a top-flight treble since Jonathan Speak against Sligo Rovers in 1997.
Finn Harps: Mark Anthony McGinley; Karl O'Sullivan (Johnny Dunleavy 76), Ethan Boyle, David Webster, Jordan Mustoe; Mark Coyle, Will Seymore; Ryan Rainey (Stephen Doherty 92), Ryan Connolly, Barry McNamee; Tunde Owolabi (Adam Foley 87).
St Patrick’s Athletic: Vitezslav Jaros; Sam Bone, Paddy Barrett (James Abankwah 90), Ian Bermingham, Jay McClelland (Ronan Coughlan half-time); Alfie Lewis, Chris Forrester; Mattie Smith; Billy King (Darragh Burns half-time), Nahum Melvin-Lambert (Jak Hickman half-time), Ben McCormack (Kyrian Nwoko 60).
Referee: Damien McGraith.