Harps out of tune as Athlone claim first point

After five straight league defeats, Athlone Town finally claimed their first point of the season when surprising Finn Harps at home last Friday night (March 30 ).

Ollie Horgan’s men were confidently expected to hand The Town another beating but instead headed back home with just a share of the spoils.

After a scoreless opening half, Shane Stokes put Athlone in front with a fabulous strike after 55 minutes. Michael O’Connor then grabbed a late equaliser for Harps.

The Donegal team were on the attack from the kick-off and must still be wondering how they did not have a comfortable half-time lead. A solitary corner kick for the hosts after five minutes was the only time the Harps defence was threatened.

Mark Timlin sent an early volley wide for the visitors. The first of 13 away corners followed. Paddy McCourt then fired wide from a free kick, with Michael O’Connor and Sam Todd also off target.

It seemed inevitable that Harps would score to open the floodgates, but bottom club Athlone held out. Mark Coyle’s shot on the turn crashed against The Town bar. A goalmouth scramble saw a header from John O’Flynn cleared off the line by Ger Smith as Harps totally dominated the opening half.

Ollie Hamzat was introduced up front by manager Aaron Callaghan for the second half and Athlone became more of an attacking force as a result.

An early corner set the tone, but it was still a shock when the home side opened the scoring 10 minutes in. Craig Short set up Stokes who gave goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher no chance of saving with a great strike to the roof of the net from outside the penalty area.

The number 11 was only in the starting line up as Darren Kavanagh was ruled out after picking up an unfortunate injury in the warm up.

Harps were stunned as Athlone then settled in to defend their slender advantage for the remaining minutes. The visitors eventually got the goal their overall performance deserved but it was not the outcome they wanted. The woodwork twice came to Athlone's rescue as firstly McCourt fired against the post, and later when substitute BJ Banda was denied by the upright.

Harps finally found a way past the home defence with 12 minutes left to play. Lee Toland sent a cross from the left into the penalty area, and Michael O’Connor’s header looped over The Town keeper.

Having equalised, many expected Harps to strike again for a winner, but Athlone hung on to claim a precious point. Athlone had a chance late on but Martin Walsh sent a shot on the turn over the bar.

A second goal for Harps never materialised with two corner kicks cleared to safety by the home team. The home team remain at the foot of the table, but will be pleased to have at last grabbed a point.

Athlone are away at the weekend when they travel to Tolka Park to take on second placed Shelbourne.

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