League leaders Waterford FC collected another three points at the Regional Sports Centre last Friday night (28 July ), as Athlone Town's away-day blues continued.
The home side took the lead through David McDaid, and although Dragos Sfrijan quickly equalised for The Town, Derek Daly had the Blues in front at the half-time break. A third goal midway through the second half from substitute Dean Walsh sealed the victory for the champions elect, who need just three more wins to lift the title.
With Athlone lining out with two wingers but no strikers, it was not surprising that most of the goalmouth action came at the away end. The scoring was opened after just 10 minutes play. Igor Labuts advanced from goal in an attempt to clear the danger from a long ball forward. McDaid, however, did well to evade the keeper's challenge before lobbing the ball into an unguarded net from long distance.
Athlone levelled matters just three minutes later. Ethan Keogh from the right edge of the penalty area sent in a cross to the far post where Sfrijan arrived to find the net from six yards.
McDaid almost restored the home lead only to be denied by Labuts. In spite of all the home pressure, Roddy Collins' men might have taken the lead just before the 30-minute mark. Goalkeeper Matthew Connor spilled a left-wing cross from Sfrijan, but Sean McGrane was unable to take advantage as his shot was blocked behind for The Town's first corner kick.
Nine minutes from the break Waterford went back in front. A contender for goal of the season saw Daly send a first time strike to the roof of the net from 25 yards following a throw-in. Athlone had time to get back on level terms, but attempts from Keogh and Curran were both blocked by the solid home rear-guard.
The second half was slow to come to life, but the home victory was sealed midway through when a corner kick was not cleared by the Athlone defence. Paul Keegan sent in the ball which was allowed bounce around a crowded penalty area, affording substitute Walsh the opportunity to eventually force the ball home from close range.
Athlone replied through Stephen Walsh, whose free kick was deflected behind for a corner from which Cormac Raftery headed over, but Waterford survived to record a comfortable victory.
The battle to avoid bottom spot intensifies on Friday (August 4 ) when Wexford FC visit Athlone.