The sending off of Niall Scullion on the stroke of half time proved crucial to the outcome of the game between Athlone Town and Shelbourne last Saturday (March 25 ).
The teams had been tied at a goal apiece when the Town team captain was shown a straight red card in controversial circumstances by referee Marc Lynch, after clashing with former Athlone player Niall Lanigan just inside the home half.
Athlone survived some early pressure from the visitors to take the lead after 16 minutes. New signing Walter Invernizzi failed to sparkle a week earlier on his debut in Cobh, but instantly endeared himself to home fans with a well-taken score. Ethan Keogh set up the striker on the edge of the penalty area and the finish from Invernizzi was low and precise.
The lead was short-lived though as Shels were back on level terms after 25 minutes of play. Lorcan Shannon delivered a pinpoint cross from the right which picked out James English six yards out, and he swept the ball home past the helpless Igor Labuts in the Town goal.
Athlone had chances to regain the lead as the half progressed, with Jason Molloy firing wide and coming even closer after half an hour with an effort from the right which bounced off the crossbar.
The dismissal of Scullion just before the break was a body blow that Athlone failed to recover from, as Shelbourne took advantage of the situation to score three times without reply during a one-sided second half. Much of the crowd in attendance were baffled by the decision, but the referee was in fairly close attendance and was obviously content with his actions on this occasion.
Cormac Raftery was brought off the substitute’s bench to fill the vacant position at full back, and while corner kicks were exchanged at both ends following the resumption of play; thereafter the game swung heavily in the visitors’ favour.
Adam Evans fired the Reds into the lead from the left after 54 minutes and as Athlone chased the game, gaps appeared in the home defence. In contrast, Shelbourne were rarely troubled at the back and had little difficulty in recording a first league win of 2017. English and Shannon had further chances to stretch the lead but the victory was only sealed in the final 15 minutes when Shels tagged on two more scores.
The third goal on 75 minutes saw Derek Prendergast, another ex-Athlone player, grab his third goal in two games when he stabbed the ball home from close range. The scoring ended with eight minutes remaining as Evans grabbed his second of the night, when he volleyed to the roof of the net after an English shot had been blocked.
The three points push Shelbourne up into fifth spot ahead of Athlone, who must now attempt to bounce back following three consecutive defeats when they next entertain third-placed Cabinteely.