On a weekend of shock results in the First Division, Athlone Town lost no ground in their pursuit of promotion in spite of losing to Longford Town at home last Friday night. Fellow joint table toppers Bray Wanderers and Shelbourne also lost while Cabinteely passed up on the chance to take advantage of the chaos by losing to Limerick.
The first Midlands derby of 2019 saw Athlone confident of turning the tables on their local rivals after being second best in recent seasons. The only unbeaten record in the division was on the line as Neale Fenn’s men paid a visit. Another bumper crowd saw Longford return home with the three points as Sam Verdon’s goal after 69 minutes proved to be the difference. The title race has now tightened up considerably with just three points separating eight of the ten teams in the division.
The midfield battle proved crucial where Aodh Dervin slightly shaded matters for the visitors but Athlone’s Kealan Dillon was also prominent against his former club. Longford were guilty of some slackness at the back but Athlone failed to take advantage. The visitors enjoyed the better start but Lee Steacy was soon in action between the posts. The Longford goalkeeper pulled off a great save after six minutes to deny Dillon.
A minute later, Longford had calls for a penalty when Aaron Dobbs went down in the box but the claim went unheeded. Dobbs had a further chance but saw his strike blocked down. Another two former Longford players then linked up midway through the half to create the opportunity for the hosts. Aaron Brilly played the ball to Kaleem Simon but the shot cleared the bar.
Simon then turned provider to set up Dean Williams but a Longford defender cleared as Dillon blasting the loose ball over. There were few further chances in the remainder of the half as both teams cancelled one another out. With Bray and Shelbourne also drawing no advantage was gained when the half time whistle sounded.
Longford had the first chance when play resumed but Dobbs shot wide. Conor Kenna also headed off target with Dean Zambra volleying over as the Longford press continued.
With Bray and Shels now in arrears, a point would have put Athlone top for at least 24 hours. However’ after 69 minutes it was Longford that made the breakthrough. Shane Elworthy’s good run and accurate cross was finished to the net by Verdon.
The visitors had further chances to double the lead as the half progressed. Verdon came close to grabbing his second score with substitute Karl Chambers having a further chance. Athlone tried hard to equalise. A penalty shout fell on deaf ears when Dillon went down. Good approach play though from the home team was not taken advantage of as the Longford defence tidied up the danger. Substitute Evan Pierce had the last chance to salvage a point but failed to trouble the keeper as Longford held out to preserve their unbeaten record.