With UCD and Waterford dropping points the previous day, both Cobh Ramblers and Athlone Town knew that victory in their meeting at St Colman’s Park last Saturday (March 18 ) would see them go clear at the top of the table.
It turned out to be an afternoon to forget for Athlone though as they were soundly beaten by Ramblers, who converted two penalties in the first half and followed up with three more from play after the break. A goal late on from substitute Ethan Keogh proved to be mere consolation, as Athlone now slip back to fifth place in the league table after two consecutive defeats.
With Athlone struggling to create an impression up front in spite of parading new Uruguayan striker Walter Invernezzi, the visitors created just one noteworthy chance to score in the first 45 minutes - Jose Viegas's side-footing wide of the target following a right-wing cross. Cobh were denied the opening goal by the woodwork after 10 minutes when Ben O’Riordan's header bounced off the crossbar.
The floodgates opened, however, when Ramblers were awarded a somewhat dubious penalty after 27 minutes, which Chris McCarthy slotted home. The Rams' captain was again successful soon after with a second spot kick, to hand Cobh a 2-0 half-time lead against an out-of-sorts Town team.
The hosts were again on the offensive following the resumption of play, and went further ahead on 62 minutes. Possession was lost by Athlone on the edge of the penalty area. Ross Mann took advantage to set up Stephen Christopher, who directed a low shot to the net from the left.
Substitute Keogh then had shouts for a penalty turned down and Cobh took advantage of this apparent let-off to net their fourth goal after 83 minutes. Substitute Cian Coleman got onto an Anthony O’Donnell free kick from the right before the advancing goalkeeper and headed to the net from close range.
The fifth home goal was gifted to them by Igor Labuts, who unwisely attempted to dribble a back pass inside his penalty area but was dispossessed by Christopher, with the ball being rolled into an empty net.
Keogh's goal after 88 minutes proved to be a consolation score as the substitute wove inside from the left to fire a shot home off the underside of the crossbar.
There was still time for Athlone to create another chance before the finish, when Ryan Gaffey was all set to make an instant impression following his introduction for the closing stages. However, Ramblers' goalkeeper Paul Hunt pulled off a brilliant save to push the goal-bound strike over the bar and keep the winning margin at four goals for the hosts.
Cobh were full value for the win as they now take over at the top of the table. With just two points separating the top five, Athlone have a chance to bounce back when they welcome struggling Shelbourne to the Midlands at the weekend.