Ciarán Fisher reports from Oriel Park
Under clear blue skies and an oppressive heat, David McMillian’s solitary goal was enough for the Lilywhites to see off the visiting Finn Harps side 1-0 at Oriel Park on Saturday afternoon.
The last time these sides met Dundalk lost 2-1. A result that was cited, by some, as a glaring failure of previous management to set up correctly for notoriously competitive opposition. Vinny Perth would have been keen to not allow the same accusations fall on him.
Things started well for the hosts and they looked the much more likely to score. In particular, David McMillian was lively up front. He fired a warning shot, or header rather, four minutes in - sneaking between two blue shirts for what seemed a relatively innocuous cross- to unnerve Ollie Horgan’s side. Not ten minutes later, he rattled the post from a similar position.
Dundalk had ample half-chances: Dan Kelly and Sonni Nattestad came a hair’s breath from converting chances in the box but it fell to McMillian who would break the deadlock.
The mercury read 30 degrees at Oriel at kick-off and McMillian made his own luck with a gut-busting industrious display. Just after the half hour mark, he was in the right position and quickest to react to the loose ball from a Mark McGinley save. Jurkovskis’ earlier shot was well saved, but fell only as far as McMillian a yard out who made no mistake.
The 200 fans in attendance might have gotten the feeling they were in for a high scoring game. They were to be disappointed only on that front at least. After taking the lead, Dundalk seemed content to allow the first half to fizzle out, with Ollie Horgan getting a booking from the referee the only real point of note between the goal and the half-time whistle.
Perhaps it was the heat, or Dundalk’s European tie midweek, or both but the Lilywhites didn’t take the game to their visitors in the second half. Harps are always restive, and they did create a few chances through Adam Foley. Boyle made a late block to stop the Harps striker getting a shot away from a weighted Barry McNamee chance. Foley was subbed off injured after straining to try and chip Alessio Abibi in goals, one of his side’s better chances.
A water break and seven substitutions in the final 25 minutes really disrupted the flow of an already flagging game. It lso gives an indication of the impact the heat was having on the players.
McMillian almost grabbed a brace in his last action of the game, when he got his shot away from a through ball only for Mark McGinley to make a fine save. The ball ricocheted off McMillian and almost trickled into the net anyway, but for the vigilance of Ethan Boyle who swooped in at the line.
By the time five added minutes were announced, it would have been difficult to discern that Dundalk only led by a goal, or indeed that Harps were only a kick away from potentially levelling. Ultimately Dundalk did enough in the first half and were able to see Harps out.
Dundalk: Alessio Abibi; Darragh Leahy, Raivis Jurkovskis, Andy Boyle, Sonni Nattestad; Patrick McEleney, Will Patching (Wilfried Zahibo 87), Sam Stanton; Daniel Kelly (Val Adedokun 90), Michael Duffy, David McMillan (Ole Erik Midtskogen 78).
Subs not used: Han Jeongwoo, Mark Hanratty, Peter Cherrie, Sean Murray, Ryan O'Kane, Greg Sloggett.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Ethan Boyle, Jordan Mustoe, Kosovar Sadiki, David Webster (c); Mark Coyle (Sean Boyd 78), Barry McNamee, Karl O'Sullivan (Ryan Connolly 88), Will Seymore; Dan Hawkins, Adam Foley (Tunde Owolabi 67).
Subs not used: Shane McEleney, John Dunleavy, Stephen Doherty, Gerard Doherty, Conor Barry.
Booked: David Webster (7), Ollie Horgan (45).
Referee: Robert Harvey
extratime.com Player of the Match: David McMillian (Dundalk)