Tuesday 18 December 2018

Harps add to Saints' woes

Calamitous defending costly for St Pat's as worries grow

St Patrick’s Athletic manager Liam Buckley saw his side suffer another defeat, this time at home to Finn Harps last night. Photo: Sportsfile
St Patrick’s Athletic manager Liam Buckley saw his side suffer another defeat, this time at home to Finn Harps last night. Photo: Sportsfile

It's early days, but it's still grim times around Inchicore as St Patrick's Athletic discover yet again that what was shaping up to a be a tricky season is bringing with it a world of pain.

Pat's find themselves today joint bottom of the table after another defeat, this one a 2-1 loss at home to Finn Harps, a very rare win for the Donegal club in this part of town.

The Saints camp will look for reasons to explain their position but have only themselves to blame for this loss as truly awful defending gifted the away side their goals.

And a big worry for Saints supporters is that there is worse to come after what seemed like a soft-ish start to the season: their first four league games were against Bray Wanderers, Drogheda United, Sligo Rovers and Harps, a run that's yielded a return of one point.

But next up for Pat's is a trip to play champions Dundalk - themselves bruised by a loss, to Derry City last night - and then back-to-back Dublin derbies, at home to Shamrock Rovers and away to Bohemians, all in the same calendar month, so March could turn out to be the cruellest month.

There is no Wenger-like pressure on Liam Buckley, the longest-serving manager in the league, and Pat's have been a patient club who have had to accept that their days of challenging for league titles is over, for now at least.

But repeats of the defensive errors which cost them the points and the game last night will make the next few weeks very uncomfortable.

Pat's did look more likely to score when subs Kurtis Byrne and Chris Fagan were on the field, and in terms of possession the home side would have won this game hands-down.

But full credit must go to a Harps side who came to Dublin for their second game in four days, scored two goals from their two chances, dug deep and defended for their lives as Pat's poured on the pressure in the last 15 minutes.

Thing is, it had started so well for the Saints last night as they were in front after only three minutes. Some sloppy defensive work from Harps saw Jonny Bonner gift possession to Graham Kelly and the man they call 'Giggles' kept his cool to slot home the lead goal.

It's been a while since the Saints were dominant in a league game, going back to last season's win over a Dundalk side who had just been crowned champions, but the home side were in control after that goal last night.

Harps needed Gareth Harkin to clear off the line on 15 minutes, Billy Dennehy's cross causing the danger, and minutes later Dennehy again threatened, his shot saved by Ciaran Gallagher in the Harps goal.

More poor defensive play helped Harps get level, as Gavin Peers' header inside his own box, with the intention of protecting his keeper Barry Murphy, went straight to Sean Houston and he slammed home the equaliser, though Peers tried to make amends on 40 minutes when his effort from a corner kick struck the crossbar.

If the first Harps goal was poor from a Saints point of view, the second one for the Donegal men was a self-inflicted wound from Pat's.

Michael Barker appeared to be under little pressure while in possession but his pass went only as far as Caolan McAleer, he squared to Ciaran O'Connor and the striker, on loan from Dundalk for the season, scored his second of the season.

Josh O'Hanlon, the lone striker for the Saints, tried to battle on and early in the second half he set up a chance for Kelly but the finish was poor.

The arrival of Fagan off the bench injected a bit of life into the Saints but a combination of poor finishing and a sturdy display by keeper Gallagher frustrated the striker.

Harps even had the luxury of sub Paddy McCourt winning tackles and playing his part in a dogged, but admirable display that lifts spirits in Donegal, but for those who follow the Saints, it's a case of the beatings continuing until defending improves.

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