With the start of the 2022 SSE Airtricity League campaign just over a fortnight away, Athlone Town have been continuing with their pre-season preparations.
Drogheda United were the second Premier Division outfit to visit and Athlone did well to hold their top-flight opponents to a draw. The hosts took an early lead but United fought back to hold a half time lead. Martin Russell’s men turned in a good second half display and were rewarded with an equaliser.
Three days earlier, Sligo Rovers had provided the opposition for the first pre-season friendly. An experimental Town team with a number of trialists on show went one down after 35 minutes Seamus Keogh on hand to head home a cross. The lead was doubled just after the break through an own goal but the hosts reduced the deficit late on. Aaron McCabe getting the final touch on a Derek Daly free kick delivery.
The game against Drogheda was open to the public and a decent crowd turned up last Saturday evening. Again, Athlone had a number of players on trial while Drogheda also had a smattering of their new signings on show.
Just four of last season’s squad started for the Town. Goalkeeper, Micheal Schlingermann, and full back Daly lined out in defence with Oisin Duffy and Glen McAuley taking up more forward roles.
Former Town player Mark Hughes started for the Drogs with Dean Williams joining the action as a substitute. Athlone got off to a great start with a rocket to the net from Daly. The visitors levelled matters on 17 minutes when number nine Chris Lyons tapped in a left-wing cross from close range. Lyons grabbed his second on the half hour mark to hand the County Louth team the lead at the break. Athlone should have gone off on level terms though but Success Edogun blasted over with the goal at his mercy.
Russell made six outfield changes for the second half with Williams being introduced for United. Athlone had the better of the exchanges and were full value for the draw. An early chance fell to Aaron Connolly who shot off the Drogheda keeper. Daly then fired wide just after the hour mark.
Another of last season’s squad also made an appearance as Lee Duffy joined the action. The home pressure paid off after 66 minutes. Another trialist was on target as Gary Armstrong drilled a low shot to the net from just inside the penalty area. Athlone had a couple of chances to take the lead while Schlingermann ensured the Town would not be beaten with a late save.
Next up for the Town is the visit of Shelbourne on Saturday evening. Last season’s First Division champions now have Damien Duff in charge. The former Ireland great has been busy in the transfer market in a bid to avoid a quick return to the lower tier.
Athlone will relish the challenge though with Russell set to put the final pieces to the squad jigsaw for 2022.