Beaten Harps in relegation fight
Boyne Harps' rollercoaster season took another turn for the worse on Friday night as defeat at the hands of Rock Celtic plunged them into a relegation battle.
Rock Celtic 4 Boyne Harps 2
The Drogheda side recovered from an awful start to the campaign, only for their manager Pete Brennan to leave just as they were building up a head of steam, and since then it's been a downward spiral, culminating in Friday's result at Sandy Lane where the hosts almost blew a three-goal lead against a Harps side who finished with nine men.
Under new boss Shane Gregory, Harps were within a few minutes of climbing to second in the table when they led Quay Celtic 3-1 three weeks ago, but that game ended in a draw and the Drogheda outfit were then deducted three points for fielding Bernard Osborne in the victory over Kingscourt Harps when he was suspended.
Gregory, who had just taken charge, said he wasn't told about the one-match ban, and with Kingscourt being given the points the bottom half of the table tightened up considerably, making the clash against Rock all the more important.
Harps were Premier champions just two years ago, and they looked the better side for long spells in the first half, only for the final ball to let them down repeatedly.
So it was a real sucker punch when the evergreen David Ward got on the end of a Dessie McKeown cross to fire Rock ahead on 38 minutes, shortly after McKeown had rattled the crossbar with a header from point-blank range.
Alan Dyas wasted Harps' best opportunity of the first half when he went clean through the home defence into the penalty area and shot straight at Conor Rafferty.
McKeown eventually doubled Rock's lead on the hour mark, before Rafferty made a great save from William Woods at the other end.
When McKeown squeezed home Rock's third goal past Harps keeper Niall Martin on 72 minutes, the game looked to be over as a contest.
Woods gave Harps a glimmer of hope three minutes later when he converted a penalty kick after a contentious hand-ball decision, but the pendulum swung firmly back in the home side's favour when Paddy O'Boyle earned himself a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident, a decision that baffled members of the management team on the sideline.
Despite being a man down, Harps pressed on and in the 85th minute they set up a grandstand finish when substitute Bernard Osborne surged past a clutch of Rock defenders into the penalty and curled the ball beyond Rafferty - 3-2.
The celebrations were instantly soured, though, when Woods wrestled with Rafferty in an attempt to retrieve the ball and earned himself a second booking and a sending-off.
For the next few minutes Rock were gripped by nerves and nine-man Harps forced a couple of corner kicks, but deep into stoppage time former Drogheda United striker Derek Delany sealed it for Rock with a penalty kick after a foul by Martin.
With their next two games against two of the title contenders, Newfoundwell and Bellurgan United, Harps' situation could deteriorate further before it gets any better.
BOYNE HARPS: Niall Martin, Conor Healy, Anto McGuinness, James Traynor, Paddy O'Boyle, Kevin Walsh, Jonathan Deegan, James Guilfoyle, Ryan O'Connor, Alan Dyas, William Woods. Subs used: Danny Coyle, Leon Campbell, Bernard Osborne.