Any lingering relegation fears Cork City may have had were eased with a draw against Finn Harps at Turner’s Cross on Friday night, but the Rebel Army continue to look for a first win under Neale Fenn.
This result ensures that the seven-point gap between the teams remains, while City also have a game in hand on the Donegal side, who will now almost certainly contest the promotion/relegation play-off with the side that emerges from the first-division play-off series.
However, as so often this season, City were found wanting in front of goal - most notably with a Conor McCormack penalty early in the second half - and they might even have lost this game if Harps took one of the chances they created in the closing stages.
Having had an extended break since the 1-0 loss at Dundalk a fortnight previously, City were able to welcome Gearóid Morrissey, Garry Buckley and Karl Sheppard back from injury. Eoghan Stokes and Alec Byrne dropped to the bench while Ronan Hurley missed out with injury.
City looked to begin brightly, playing some nice football with Dáire O’Connor very lively, but too often they lacked a cutting edge in attack. Harps goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley wasn’t called on too often in the early stages, with City coming closest when Morrissey tried to find Sheppard with a searching pass from deep but it was just ahead of the winger.
Harps had their first half-chance on 25 when Tony McNamee curled an effort straight at Tadhg Ryan from outside the area, but by and large City continued to have the better of the play.
Just after the half-hour, they had a great opportunity go ahead. Morrissey’s ball into the area was blocked by Mark Timlin and fell perfectly for Sheppard on the penalty spot but his rasping shot was narrowly wide.
As half-time approached, Sheppard was unable to get enough on a McCormack cross and the ball skidded wide while City’s top scorer this season, defender Conor McCarthy, was well off-target with a long-range shot.
Three minutes into the second half, City won a penalty as Mark O’Sullivan was tripped by Josh Smith as he went for a Shane Griffin cross. Up stepped McCormack but his spot-kick was deflected away by the leg of former Donegal goalkeeper McGinley. While City kept the ball alive, Morrissey’s shot from distance wasn’t troubling the custodian.
Despite the failure to push on, City remained on the front foot and went close again on 58 as Griffin’s cross was headed down by Sheppard to Buckley but he was unable to make enough of an overhead shot.
At the other end, Harps left wing-back Daniel O’Reilly had a 25-yard shot which flew over, but he and his team-mates remained primarily concerned with having to defend. When Gearóid Morrissey – scorer of two brilliant goals in the 4-3 win in Ballybofey in March – threatened with a shot from outside the area, O’Reilly got in a vital block and then on 72 Dáire O’Connor’s corner was met by McCarthy but he couldn’t find the target.
Sub Joel Coustrain looked to make things happen for City and one run down the left raised the excitement levels and his low cross was almost met by O’Sullivan but McGinley claimed. However, as the end neared, Harps looked likelier to break the deadlock.
With eight minutes remaining, they had a gilt-edged chance when Tony McNamee’s cross from the right found O’Reilly free in the area but he couldn’t test Ryan.
Then, five minutes later, O’Reilly’s long-range shot was headed for the target and Ryan had to be at his best to tip it over. As the corner came over, Harps sub Raffaele Cretaro went down as he jostled with McCarthy but the visitors’ shouts for a penalty of their own came to nought.
Into injury time and City sub Eoghan Stokes had a go from distance but it was speculative and the ball ended in the Shed End.
Ryan; Horgan, McCarthy, Casey, Griffin; McCormack, Morrissey; Sheppard (Coustrain 68), Buckley (Stokes 79), D O’Connor; O’Sullivan.
McGinley; Ascroft, Smith, Russell; Borg, R Harkin (Cretaro 65), McNamee, Todd, O’Reilly; Boyle (Logue 90), Timlin (G Harkin 65).
R Hennessy (Limerick).