League leaders UCD needed a dubious penalty kick to see off the challenge of bottom club Athlone Town at the ATFC Stadium last Friday night. Referee Garvin Taggart punished the home team for a push in the penalty area following a corner kick. It seemed a harsh decision but Gary O’Neill slotted home the spot kick early in the opening half for the only goal of the game. The Students had chances in the second half to seal victory but Athlone held out to deny the Divisions top scorers any further goals.
Four new signings by manager Terry Butler all made their debut with Kyle Hogan and Victor Ekanem starting while Nathan Doyle and Jamie Broderick came on in the second half.
With the campaign entering the home straight, UCD were quickly on the offensive as they looked to consolidate their position at the top of the table. Jason McClelland had an early chance with O’Neill then having a shot blocked.
The Students earned the first corner kick of the game on 10 minutes which resulted in the winning score. The referee spotted a push inside the box by Nika Kalandarshvili and while his hand signals were initially confusing, the outcome was the award of a penalty. It was a baffling decision but Athlone were punished when O’Neill left goalkeeper Mick Fogarty rooted to his goal line with a low strike to his left.
Midway through the half, the Students should have doubled their advantage but Neil Farrugia was denied by Fogarty. The Town keeper then made another fine save to push away a close range header from Josh Collins.
Athlone’s first attempt on goal came after 25 minutes but Kalandarishvili fired a free kick wide of the target. The woodwork then came to the hosts rescue when O’Neill’s effort hit the upright as McClelland’s follow up was blocked.
Having been under pressure for most of the half, Athlone could easily have headed off on level terms. Ten minutes from the break, Ollie Hamzat had a great chance from close range but his attempt was blocked. George Mukete then became involved for Athlone as he sent a shot across the goalmouth from the left and also fired wide.
UCD dominated the second half up to the closing stages but with just a goal between the teams, the game was still delicately balanced. Hamzat sent in a right wing cross after 50 minutes which the keeper gathered but UCD had the better chances of increasing their lead.
Yoyo Mahdy had a couple of chances with Farrugia off target with a header. Mahdy had a further shot blocked as UCD looked to kill off the Town challenge. Liam Scales and Farrugia continued with the onslaught but Fogarty stood firm between the home posts.
A rare home chance saw Ian Fletcher fire a free kick at Conor Kearns. Surprisingly, the division’s top scorers failed to add to their tally while Athlone’s last chance deep into stoppage saw a promising move halted for offside against substitute Rory McCullough.