Boyle brace earns a rare win for Finn Harps over Sligo Rovers
Finn Harps 2 Sligo Rovers 0
Sligo Rovers returned from the mid-season break in discouraging fashion as they were deservedly beaten by Finn Harps in Ballybofey.
Goals in either half from Nathan Boyle earned Harps their first win in six as a simply dreadful Rovers managed just the one shot on target in the whole game.
Ollie Horgan's charges never overly-impressed, but still managed to both outsmart and outfight a destitute Rovers on the night.
The Bit O'Red returned from their two weeks away from competitive action, having been beaten just once in the ten games leading up to the holidays. But looked like they were the ones struggling at the foot of the table and not Harps, with an insipid first half display.
Their solitary shot on target arriving two minutes in after Keith Cowan tangled with Romeo Parkes at the edge of Mark McGinley's area.
The initial bend on Sam Warde's resulting set-piece looked like it might trouble the Harps goalkeeper, but McGinley managed to push the ball to safety.
This was the best Rovers could muster as Harps looked the more likely to break the seal.
Both of Daniel O'Reilly's quick-fire attempts from 20 yards were blocked down by a series of diving red shirts. While Harps should have had the lead on seven minutes.
Boyle won't be presented with a better chance this season, but the 25-year-old somehow blundered the effort as he headed Raffaele Cretaro's cross onto Ed McGinty's crossbar whilst unmarked at the front post.
Cretaro showed glimpses of his heyday throughout this north west derby, providing the creative spark from midfield for Harps which Rovers sorely lacked.
The Tubbercurry attacker came within inches of giving his side the lead on 16 minutes.
His tenacity saw him come out on top in the dual with Rovers captain Kyle Callan-McFadden in the middle of the park. Cretaro bringing the ball forward before his speculative drive from 35 yards was initially spilled by McGinty, but the Motherwell native recovered in time to grasp the ball before it crossed his goal-line.
McGinty held on to Boyle's header four minutes later, while Rovers, lacking in urgency, continued to struggle to create much.
Sam Todd got in the way of a Parkes pot-shot as Harps easily batted away the height of Sligo's ambition.
Referee Tomas Connolly brought the game to a short halt on 26 minutes when he asked the Finn Harps mascot to leave the perimeter of the pitch.
The quick break certainly didn't do Rovers much good, as Horgan's charges hit the front.
Mark Russell finding enough space behind Rovers full back Johnny Dunleavy to steady himself before picking out Boyle, who, from close range, placed the ball beyond a sprawling McGinty at the first time of asking.
Rovers did manage two half chances before the interval.
David Cawley arrived just short of Ronan Murray's cross from the right, while Kris Twardek's go at goal didn't have the accuracy required after Parkes and Warde made the most of a Sam Todd mishap by supplying the Canadian.
Twardek was again involved before Connolly's half-time whistle, but again his intended strike at goal was poor.
Rovers did start the second half on the front foot but without much to show for it.
Cawley's volley across McGinley's goal served little more than to remind Harps of Rovers' presence on the pitch.
Boyle then pulled another save from McGinty as the young Scot got down to claim the striker's powerful effort with the outside of his boot.
Rovers have had the better of the meetings between these two this season, with a win and a draw from their previous encounters in 2019.
But as the second half wore on, it looked increasingly likely that Harps would record their first league win over their rivals in two years.
Twardek's accuracy didn't match his intentions again as he did well to rise above two defenders, but could only head Cawley's corner over the bar.
Dante Leverock, recently returned from Bermuda's impressive Gold Cup campaign then had a half chance with an improvised effort as Rovers became increasingly frustrated by this dogged Harps outfit.
Fittingly, it was Rovers who were then the architects of their own downfall as the home side put the result beyond doubt.
John Mahon couldn't control a back-pass from Lewis Banks, allowing Cretaro take control. The veteran bided his time in assessing the situation before squaring for Boyle who fired home for his brace.
The situation could have been a whole lot worse for Rovers. Boyle again wriggling loose but McGinty did just enough to get a touch to his resulting effort.
Substitute Tony McNamee then had the ball in the net in the fourth minute of added time, but Rovers' blushes were spared when the linesman on the stand side adjudged the Derry man to have made his move too early.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Daniel O'Reilly, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd; Jacob Borg, Mark Russell; Mark Coyle, Gareth Harkin; Raff Cretaro (Tony McNamee 83), Caolan McAleer (Harry Ascroft 74); Nathan Boyle (Mikey Place 89).
Sligo Rovers: Ed McGinty; Johnny Dunleavy, John Mahon, Dante Leverock, Lewis Banks; Kyle Callan-McFadden (John Russell HT); Sam Warde; David Cawley (Jack Keaney 71), Kris Twardek; Ronan Murray, Romeo Parkes.
Referee: Tomas Connolly.