Shelbourne came away from a dramatic affair at Tolka Park with all three points after a 3-2 win against promotion rivals Finn Harps. The game was topsy turvy and had the fans out of their seats on more than one occasion, mostly due to the actions of the referee.
The home side started brightly in the game with some well placed passes. However, that was to be the extent of the good start for Shelbourne as what followed turned into a nightmare that manager, Kevin Doherty didn’t envisage for his side. The visitors won a corner on the 10th minute of the game and the result was the ball landing in the back of Shelbourne’s net. Harp’s defender Damien McNulty lept into the air and connected his head to the ball and powered it past Shel’s keeper, Greg Murray and into the top left hand corner of the net.
Shelbourne then tried to hit back in search of a quick response to the early goal. Unfortunately, three minutes later, forward, Mark Sanford went in with a high boot and connected with arm of Finn Harps keeper Ciaran Gallagher in the box. The referee went straight over to the Shels man and produced a red card. The home support voiced their displeasure at the decision. They had reason to complain as it looked like an honest effort to win the ball and not a deliberate attempt to injure the keeper.
The game began to heat up and tempers flared at times. The referee pulled out the cards yet again. All yellow this time. Two for Shelbourne and one for Finn Harps. Matt Crossan received a yellow card for Finn Harps for a high boot on Jake Donnelly. The home fans waited to see if the referee disciplined him like Sandford. Unfortunately for them, he didn’t see the challenge being as poor like the foul earlier in the game.
Then lady luck shone down on Shels for the first time in the game. A long ball was looking destined for Adam O’Connor, who had pushed forward. However, Keith Cowan barged into the back of the defender. There was a delayed reaction by the referee but he signaled to the spot. Up stepped fan favourite, Philly Hughes. The forward made no mistake as he drilled his effort straight down the middle.
That luck disappeared after the break. Finn Harps midfielder, Tony McNamee, looked to have strayed offside. The Shels players froze as the Harps’ man flicked the ball over Murray and it landed right in the back of the net. The entire Shelbourne bench poured onto the pitch as they couldn’t understand how the effort stood.
However, like the topsy turvy game this turned out to be. Shels were given the chance to make the game all square again with another penalty. The ball was looking destined for Hughes and again the Harps defence went in hard. Defender, Keith Cowan barged into Hughes’ back and sent the forward tumbling over. The referee pointed straight the spot and then marched straight to Cowan to brandish another red card. Again, another harsh decision by the referee. Hughes stepped up once again and blasted the ball to the left. Gallagher got a touch on the ball but not enough to keep it out.
From the restart, Shels pushed to get ahead for the first time in the game and they didn’t disappoint the home support. Hughes picked up a nice ball just outside the area and dribbled his way into the box around the keeper and blasted the ball into the net. A hat-trick for the cult hero.
Hughes nearly added his fourth with a sublime effort. From 40 yards out on the right hand side of the pitch, Hughes took a chance as he saw the keeper off his line. His effort crossed box and crashed off the corner of left hand upright and bounced away. The Shelbourne dugout and the fans believed the effort crossed the goal line but it was not given.
The tempo of the game went up a notch or two after Shelbourne went ahead but there was not much in terms of action after that, apart from a few half chances.
The hero of the game was undoubtedly Shelbourne’s Philly Hughes. The veteran striker’s performance never dipped during the 77 minutes he was on the pitch. He definitely had the belief that the game could be turned around and he didn’t stop after his hat-trick was complete.
Referee, Andrew Mullally and his two assistants had an extremely poor game. They missed a lot of the action off the ball and both the red cards, while adding drama to the proceedings, were completely unnecessary.
The Crowd Pleaser
One could argue, which was the the best moment of the night for the crowd. The third goal for the home side had the Shelbourne fans on the their feet. Nobody in Tolka Park expected to witness Shelbourne win after going a goal and man down in the first quarter of the game. However, Hughes had the crowd in the palm of his hand after he wheeled away from scoring what was the winning goal.
What Happens Next?
The win means Shelbourne now move up to fourth place, three points ahead of fifth place Athlone Town, who have a game in hand. They are also now six point behind leaders Wexford Youths, but Shels have played a game more. Shelbourne will play away next to Cabinteely in a fortnight. In the meantime, they will play a friendly against Hearts on Saturday week in Tolka Park.
Finn Harps will also play Cabinteely but at home next Friday night. They are in second place, just two points behind leaders Wexford Youths.
SHELBOURNE: Murray, O’Connor (C), Osam, R.Robinson, Heaney, J.Donnelly (Andrews 90′), McGlade, Walsh, Hughes (English 77′), Sandford, Earley (Kehoe 85′)
Substitutes: E.Donnelly, O’Sullivan, Keely, A.Robinson
Goals: Hughes (41′, 55′, 58′)
Yellow Cards: Walsh (26′), Earley (30′), Heaney (60′)
Red Cards: Sandford (14′)
FINN HARPS: Gallagher, McNulty, Coll, Cowan, P.Mailey (Friel 68′), Crossan (McMonagle 45′), McNamee, Foy (J..Mailey 84′), Tagbo, McHugh (C), Harkin
Substitutes: McCarron, McMenimen, Toland
Goals: McNulty (11′), McNamee (46′)
Yellow Cards: Crossan (21′), McNulty (76′)
Red Cards: Cowan (52′)
Referee: Andrew Mullally