Finn-tastic cameo from McCourt downs Drogs
Soccer: SSE Airtricity League first division: Finn Harps 2 Drogheda United 1
Paddy McCourt may be entering the twilight of his illustrious career, but he still had the class to turn this game on its head during a 24-minute cameo performance against Drogheda United last Friday evening.
The Boynesiders were deservedly ahead 1-0 heading into the interval and seemingly on their way to another three points after winning both their encounters in Ballybofey last season.
However, wily Finn Harps manager Ollie Horgan brought on the former Celtic star for the second half and it was no fluke that the home side scored both their goals during McCourt's brief appearance on the pitch.
Drogs boss Tim Clancy went with the same starting XI for the third consecutive game and the early signs were positive as a Lee Duffy effort took a deflection and bounced off the top of the Harps crossbar.
The hosts' first opportunity fell to Ciaran O'Connor as he ran onto a Mark Coyle pass, but his first touch was heavy and the alert Drogs keeper Paul Skinner darted off his line to snaffle the ball at the second attempt.
Duffy and Chris Lyons were causing Harps all sorts of problems with their pace and direct running and it was Lyons who instigated the breakthrough goal when he was fouled out on the left just outside the penalty area.
Drogheda threw centre-halves Ciaran Kelly and Kevin Farragher into the box for the resulting free kick, but Sean Brennan caught Harps on the hop as he bent his shot from distance into the net past the despairing dive of Ciaran Gallagher.
If Gallagher was slightly at fault, he redeemed himself somewhat by saving from Duffy shortly after as Drogheda went for the jugular, and Harps were relieved to hear the half-time whistle with just a single-goal deficit to make up.
Horgan made a double change at the break, replacing the rather ineffective Aidan Friel and BJ Banda with McCourt (pictured right) and Jesse Devers, and within eight minutes of the restart the home supporters were cheering an equaliser.
A foul on McCourt in a dangerous position gave the Derry native an opportunity to deliver the ball into the penalty area and centre-
back Keith Cowan - who missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury - rose highest to power a header past Skinner.
Drogheda almost fell behind shortly after when Ciaran O'Connor stepped inside Conor Kane off the right wing to create a shooting chance, only to shoot badly wide of the target.
The lead goal for Harps arrived on 64 minutes, just 11 minutes after the equaliser, and once again McCourt was pivotal as he drove forward from midfield and released fellow sub Devers just inside the box.
With his back to goal, Devers merely rolled the ball towards Ciaran O'Connor who showed great feet to step past challenges from three defenders before firing low and hard past Skinner from 12 yards.
Drogheda pushed forward in search of an equaliser, but with little impact despite McCourt having to go off injured, and with 16 minutes remaining Clancy made a double change, replacing Duffy with Gareth McCaffrey and throwing on an extra attacker in Stephen Meaney in place of Farragher.
There were chances for both teams in a frantic last 15 minutes. Harps had a goal disallowed for offside, while Lyons fired just wide for the Drogs.
With five minutes added on for stoppages the exchanges in the latter stages were tense, but Colm Deasy sent a late opportunity into the side netting as Harps held out for an important victory that tightens up the league table considerably behind early pace-setters UCD.
Having had to make two trips to Drogheda earlier in the season owing to the United Park floodlights fiasco and losing the refixed game, this win will be sweet for Harps.
For Drogheda, who hadn't lost at Finn Harps in the league since 1998, it's a reality check - if any were needed - that the battle for play-off places will be extremely hard-fought.