HARRY ASCROFT entered the Finn Harps annals as the Australian’s 66th minute header secured a gritty and priceless derby win over Derry City at Finn Harps.
Finn Harps 1 Derry City 0
By Chris McNulty at Finn Park. Pictures by Joe Boland
Ascroft headed home midway through the second half to give Harps only their eighth ever derby win over Derry in the 70th competitive meeting of the old foes.
Ascroft has had an injury-troubled season since signing for Harps in January from Malta-based Balzan, but he came up with tonight’s big moment in front of a poor attendance of 1,523.
Tony McNamee – who had been sprung from the bench just 90 seconds earlier – launched a missile of a long throw. It was by no means a gimme for the Ascroft, who did well to outmuscle Greg Sloggett before planting his header to the River End net. The goal puts Harps three points clear of UCD, who lost 2-1 to Waterford.
Seventeen minutes from the end, Mikey Place, after a good move down the right-hand side rolled wide of the far post with a big chance to double the advantage.
Moments previously, Sloggett headed wide from a Jamie McDonagh cross as Derry sought a way back into the tie.
City played the last ten minutes with four strikers – David Parkhouse, Michael McCrudden, Eoghan Stokes and Conor Davis – on the field and McCrudden flashed over two minutes from the end.
Harps veteran Raffaele Cretaro was honoured before the game with a presentation to mark his 500th League of Ireland appearance.
The 37-year-old, who made his mark with his native Sligo Rovers, has been wearing the Harps captain’s armband in recent weeks and he got a rousing reception when his 84th minute withdrawal handed Greencastle’s Shaun Doherty his debut.
Harps were fortunate not to concede right on the stroke of half-time.
Sam Todd’s pass back to goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley put the ‘keeper under pressure.
McGinley’s attempted clearance flew into the air, but Parkhouse’s header flew over, the Derry striker receiving a heavy hook to the head in the process from the recovering net-minder.
McGinley came to the rescue again when he saved well from McDonagh ten minutes into the second half and the Ards man maintained his good run of form with a third clean sheet in four.
For only the second time this season, Horgan kept faith in the same eleven, with the Harps boss rewarding those who started in last week’s 1-0 win at Waterford FC – their first win on the road this season.
Place, the hero of the hour at the RSC with a late penalty last week, had a couple of tame attempts in the early stages that failed to trouble visiting ‘keeper Peter Cherrie.
In a timid opening that was a far cry from the usual derby heat, Keith Cowan couldn’t connect properly to a Cretaro free kick that looked promising.
Eoin Toal returned to Derry’s team, taking the place of Davis, as the Candystripes sought to continue an eight-game unbeaten streak – a run that included League and League Cup wins over Harps.
Derry were slow to start and Gerardo Bruna’s free kick that was up and over was a snapshot of the first half.
McDonagh caused Harps some trouble on the half-hour with a pair of teasing crosses from the right flank. The alert Daniel O’Reilly cut out the first of them, while Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe headed the second well wide.
McDonagh fizzed wide with a volley from 30 yards five minutes before the break.
McGinley – who had conceded just once in his last four games – did well to save with his legs at the near post when Junior connected with purpose.
Ascroft lit the fuse and Harps held on to put him on that pedestal alongside the likes of Sammy Johnson and Donal O’Brien for derby day heroics.
Finn Harps: Mark Anthony McGinley; Daniel O’Reilly, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd; Jacob Borg, Harry Ascroft, Gareth Harkin, Mark Timlin (Tony McNamee 64), Mark Russell; Raffaele Cretaro (Shaun Doherty 84); Mikey Place (Liam Walsh 92).
Derry City: Peter Cherrie; Darren Cole, Eoin Toal (Michael McCrudden 77), Ally Gilchrist, Ciaran Coll; Greg Sloggett, Jamie McDonagh, Ciaron Harkin, (Conor Davis 80) Gerardo Bruna; David Parkhouse, Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (Eoghan Stokes 77).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Sports writer from St Johnston, now based in Letterkenny, with ten years’ experience covering sport in Donegal. Was a nominee for NUJ Sports Journalist of the Year in 2010. Honoured by the Donegal Boxing Board in 2016 for his coverage on the sport.