Athlone Town put their off-the-field problems to one side when they shocked league leaders Cobh Ramblers at home last Friday night (May 5 ).
With the alleged match-fixing scandal providing an unwelcome distraction for the hosts, Ramblers were expected to strengthen their grip on top spot. However, The Town were on top for large parts of the game and two goals from striking sensation Chris Rodrigues lifted the gloom.
Without top scorers Walter Invernizzi and Conor Barry, a depleted Athlone team handed both Ethan Keogh and Ryan Gaffey a first start in 2017. Looking to make it four wins on the trot, the visitors were surprisingly subdued though in the opening half, leaving The Town with the better of the few chances created.
Jason Lyons had an early chance while Keogh should have broken the deadlock midway through, but failed to keep his shot down when well placed. The first corner kick did not arrive until late on and it was no surprise then that the first half ended scoreless.
The game was to turn dramatically Athlone’s way within minutes of the restart, when Cobh conceded a penalty kick that saw Christopher McCarthy pick up his first card of the night. The concession was to prove costly for the Rams captain who headed for an early shower when again committing a foul on the hour mark.
A brilliant run from Rodrigues was halted illegally inside the penalty area and The Town striker made no mistake from the spot at the second time of asking. The referee may have made Rodrigues retake his kick, but Paul Hunt was given no chance with either effort.
Lyons and Colm Coss had further home chances, but Cobh led to their own downfall when reduced to 10 men as McCarthy saw red. Rodrigues was again fouled and once more exacted retribution with a marvellous second goal for Athlone. The resulting free kick cleared the wall to end in the net as Cobh keeper Hunt remained helplessly rooted to his goal line.
The table toppers were now looking at a rare defeat, but two corners in quick succession showed they would not throw in the towel without a fight. Pushing forward though in search of a score left 10-man Ramblers exposed at the back. Lyons had a chance to make it three-nil as the game entered its closing stages but Hunt made the save.
As the game headed towards stoppage time, Cobh were handed a lifeline when Matthew Whelan reduced the deficit. The header to the net proved to be just a consolation score, however, as Athlone hung on to claim their second win in three games.
It could however be the last game in charge for stand-in manager Ricardo Cravo who had revitalised the team following the departure of previous incumbent Ricardo Monsanto. An announcement is expected soon which could see former boss Roddy Collins make a return to the club he led to the First Division title in 2013.