A stunning strike from Greg Bolger condemned Finn Harps to a relegation play-off following a turgid game at Tallaght Stadium. The midfielder slammed home the winner for the second time this season – having done the same in Ballybofey in March – as Harps’ stern resistance finally gave way.
Cork City’s win over UCD in Turner’s Cross means automatic survival is beyond reach for Harps but their 17-goal advantage over the Students means they’re virtually guaranteed a play-off.
The Hoops made six changes to their starting line-up with a number of absentees, including Jack Byrne and Roberto Lopes away with Ireland and Cape Verde national teams respectively. Neil Farrugia slotted in on the left for his first appearance following an injury-hit spell since his move during the summer.
Graham Burke, Brandon Kavanagh, Lee Grace, Greg Bolger and Dylan Watts also returned from the Hoops side that were held to a scoreless draw in Sligo last week.
There were four changes, too, for Harps from the side that drew 0-0 with UCD last week, with Josh Smith, Colm Deasy, Ruairi Harkin and Nathan Boyle all coming in.
The game took a long time to get going as Harps, playing with five across the back, sat back and frustrated the home side. Rovers’ first half-chance came midway through the first-half but Greene couldn’t connect with captain Ronan Finn’s inviting cross.
Harps went close moments later as Sam Todd met Tony McNamee’s corner with a firm header but Alan Mannus was on hand to avert the danger. Good link-up play between Danny Laffery and Farrugia saw the winger cross for Brandon Kavanagh but the midfielder couldn’t keep his bicycle kick attempt down.
Greene was again close to connecting with a good Dylan Watts cross before Burke smashed another incisive Watts pass just wide. The best chance of the half fell to Watts a minute before the break but he saw his shot expertly tipped over by the impressive McGinley.
Rovers improved after the break and Finn came within a hair’s breadth of putting his side in the front when he saw his shot from a tight angle tipped onto the post by McGinley.
The outstanding McGinley pulled off a stunning double-save to keep the scores level when he kept out Watts’ low drive before bouncing up to turn Burke’s close-range follow-up behind.
It was only brief respite for the visitors, however, as Watts picked out Bolger with the subsequent corner and he rifled an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Mannus; Lafferty, Grace, S Kavanagh; Finn, B Kavanagh (McEneff 72), Bolger, Watts, Farrugia (Abulu 76); Burke, Greene (Cummins 86).
Referee: D Tomney (Dublin).