A STUNNING GOAL from Shaun Kelly set Limerick FC on their way to a first leg victory over Finn Harps in tonight’s SSE Airtricity League Premier Division promotion/relegation play-off final.
Limerick FC 1-0 Finn Harps
Kelly, who is a native of Killybegs and once played a trial match for Harps in 2008, took up possession on the right-hand side of the penalty area some 25 yards from goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot into Ciaran Gallagher’s top corner.
Harps had bother clearing a Limerick cross from Robbie Williams and it was Ian Turner who laid the ball back to Kelly, who is enjoying his second spell on Shannonside.
The opening goal, which arrived on 34 minutes, was one certainly deserved for Martin Russell’s Limerick, who opened with intent to continue their drive to the Great Escape – they failed to win once in their opening 21 outings this season but finished with gusto to avoid automatic relegation.
Ollie Horgan opened with a flooded midfield but Limerick penetrated time and again down the flanks, with Dean Clarke on the right particularly dangerous.
Indeed, it was Clarke who almost opened the scoring on seven minutes when he stole in at the back post from a Kelly cross. Clarke seemed destined to score but under commendable pressure from Damien McNulty, the ball clipped the crossbar and Harps survived.
Then, just three minutes later, Shane Tracy half-volleyed from 20 yards as Harps struggled to clear a corner, but Ciaran Gallagher saved and Packie Mailey had to be alert to clear off the line from Vinny Faherty.
Harps had some nervous moments between then and half-time but only Kelly managed to get the better of Gallagher with that piercing shot.
Moments later, Kelly and Freddy Hall got their wires crossed and the right-back’s header back sneaked through his goalkeeper’s outstretched fingers but Nathan Boyle was denied by Patrick Kanyuka, who mopped up.
The best chance that the visitors created in the first half was when Tracy headed into his own side-netting after Gareth Harkin’s corner in first half injury time.
Boyle put in a decent shift up top for Harps but having run himself in the ground and picked up a hamstring injury, was replaced on 53 minutes by BJ Banda. Harps were also forced to line out without injured captain Kevin McHugh, while a knee injury meant Raymond Foy started on the bench.
McNulty, Boyle and Michael Funston all played through the pain barrier, with the latter having a decent penalty shout when he might well have been clipped by Kanyuka.
Kelly teetered the disciplinary tightrope with a fairly robust challenge on Tony McNamee but referee Rob Rogers flashed only a yellow.
Limerick continued to push from the front foot but Harps, who conceded only 25 goals in 31 matches this term, held firm.
Faherty almost added a second for Limerick 15 minutes from time when he got an untidy header on a centre from Ian Turner, only to see the ball clip the outside of the post.
Harps’ best chance came on 77 minutes when Banda rounded Limeick goalkeeper Hall as he raced for goal. Banda’s shot, though, from 25 yards, on the run and at an angle missed the target.
All in all, especially after a difficult first half, Harps can be content enough with their night’s work. And for that, Limerick can as well. It’s all in the melting pot ahead of Friday’s second leg in Ballybofey.
Limerick FC: Freddy Hall; Shaun Kelly, Patrick Kanyuka, Robbie Williams, Shane Tracy; Shane Duggan; Dean Clarke (Lee-J Lynch 69), Paul O’Conor, Sean Russell, Ian Turner; Vinny Faherty.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Damien McNulty, Packie Mailey, Keith Cowan; Josh Mailey, Matthew Crossan (Raymond Foy 62), Gareth Harkin, Tony McNamee, Ciaran Coll; Michael Funston (Wilfried Tagbo 82); Nathan Boyle (BJ Banda 53).
Referee: Rob RogersTags: