Football | Ascroft saves Finn Harps from relegation

Harry Ascroft scored an extra-time winner as Finn Harps beat Drogheda United 2-0 in Ballybofey to retain their Premier Division status.

Ascroft’s 107th-minute goal secured a 2-1 aggregate victory for Ollie Horgan’s men after Mark Russell had given the hosts an early lead in the heavy rain.

Harps entered the second leg of their promotion/relegation play-off needing a win after Drogheda’s dramatic late 1-0 win at United Park last week. Intriguingly, no Premier Division side had previously won the annual play-off in six years.

The Donegal club eased early nerves at Finn Park with a seventh-minute goal to level the tie on aggregate.

Raff Cretaro took a quick corner to Ruairi Harkin, who crossed for Russell to direct a header past Drogs ‘keeper Luca Gratzer to give Harps the lead on the night.

In the 20th minute, Russell headed Mikey Place’s corner over before Sam Todd also missed the target from a headed opportunity following a delivery from Mark Timlin.

Harps went into the lead with a 1-0 advantage.

Mark Doyle troubled Harps ‘keeper Mark Anthony McGinley with a low shot midway through the second half.

Place was frustrated at the other end as Harps sought a second goal, first being denied by a brilliant Gratzer save, before striking the rebound off the post.

The pitch grew increasingly muddy as the second period wore on, with neither side able to make the breakthrough.

Doyle forced McGinley into two saves late on, but both sides were forced to settle for extra time in Donegal. 

Harps scored their crucial second goal two minutes into the second half of extra time, with Australian Ascroft applying a close-range finish to a Tony McNamee corner.

The home side held on to retain their Premier Division status, condemning Drogheda to another season in the First Division.

Harps manager Horgan has now won all three of his promotion/relegation play-offs with the club.