Finn Harps 2 Drogheda United 0 (aet, Finn Harps win 2-1 on agg)
Finn Harps will play in the Premier Division again next season after coming out on top in an absorbing promotion/relegation playoff final second leg mud-battle at Finn Park in Ballybofey on Friday night.
Not since 2013 has a Premier Division side won this make-or-break playoff, but Ollie Horgan's side triumphed thanks to goals from Mark Russell in the first half and an extra-time match-winner from Harry Ascroft to spark of scenes of delight from the majority in the 2,113 attendance.
This was Harps’ third promotion/relegation playoff decider since Horgan took charge back in 2013 – and his third success.
But spare a thought for battling Drogheda who must now face First Division football again next season.
The Louth side, who went into the game with a 1-0 lead from the first leg at United Park on Monday, were a goal down at the break as Harps were much the better team in the first half.
The attack-minded Donegal side began positively and went ahead on seven minutes when following a short corner veteran Raffaele Cretaro found Ruairí Harkin outside the box and his teasing ball in was met by Russell, who climbed above the Drogheda defence to head powerfully beyond the reach of Luca Gratzer.
And on 19 minutes Russell almost got a second as, unmarked, he sent a looping header from a corner just past the upright.
The home side had the upper hand for the rest of the half, with the inspirational Harkin’s probing crosses causing Drogheda a couple of problems.
Indeed, Harps went within inches of doubling their tally in the 39th minute when Sam Todd met a Mark Timlin corner only to see his effort fly just over the upright.
Moments later Ascroft attempted a spectacular overhead kick but having done the hard part, the shot lacked force and was capably collected by Gratzer.
Drogheda’s first real chance did not materialise until the 64th minute when Mark Doyle’s shot was smartly saved by Mark Anthony McGinley.
The final 20 minutes was nerve-wracking stuff with players, slipping and sliding on a muddy pitch plucked from the 70s.
Twice in the final six minutes, Doyle had chances for Drogheda but on both occasions McGinley was well placed to make the saves.
The first half of extra-time so no real clear-cut chances as the players grappled with the conditions.
But at the start of the second half, Harps got the all-important second goal as Ascroft got onto the end of a Tony McNamee corner to score from close range.
Drogheda had some late chances but Harps held on.
FINN HARPS: McGinley; Borg, Ascroft, Cowan, Todd, Russell; R Harkin (McNamee, 93 mins), G Harkin, Timlin; Cretaro (Coyle, 90 mins, inj, replaced by O'Reilly, 103 mins ), Place (Boyle, 73 mins).
DROGHEDA UNITED: Gratzer; Brown, McNally, Farragher, Kane; Hughes (Adeyemo, 96 mins); Meaney (Wixted, h/t), Brennan (Hollywood, 61 mins), Heeney, Doyle; Lyons O'Shea (121 mins)
Referee: N Doyle (Dublin).