Without a point following two demanding SSE Airtricity League fixtures Athlone Town will be hoping to open their seasonal account at the UCD Bowl this evening.
Manager Mick Cooke has acknowledged that it is a vital contest against Aaron Callaghan’s students at the campus venue. “Going to UCD we know it is a very important fixture and we need to pick up something there,” is Cooke’s crisp verdict.
Defeats to Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers haven’t dampened Cooke’s enthusiasm for the challenges that await. “We have played two teams in our first couple of games that will probably be in the top four, but we have shown good fighting spirit so far.
“It has been a tough start. Sligo are the FAI Cup holders and were league winners the year before that. Shamrock Rovers are a top team. I saw them the previous Sunday and to think that they made five changes from that starting XI and still put the team that they had out shows their strength.
“I think we did OK against a full-time outfit. For a team that went three down early in the second half I thought they showed great fortitude by the way that they battled on.”
A rare error from custodian Paul Skinner allowed Ciaran Kilduff nudge Rovers ahead and from then on Athlone were in bother. Cooke wants his midfield to craft more chances for attacker Philly Gorman in the coming weeks.
“We showed character and that will break many a team’s heart. We were doing reasonably well, but then when we were defending a corner kick, unfortunately Paul dropped the ball and we were punished for it. Against lesser teams you wouldn’t be, but in fairness to the striker he took it well. I thought we fought until the bitter end. You can’t make mistakes against the top teams because you will be punished.
“I thought that when we got into the final third against Shamrock Rovers our first ball was very poor. We didn’t create enough chances. We have a man in Philly Gorman, who will get goals, but he needs better service.”
The Hoops, who face arch Dublin rivals Bohemians at Dalymount Park this evening, have sufficient talent to make a significant bid for the title according to Cooke. “We played against a very good Rovers side. You could see that having the likes of Eamonn Zayed, Karl Sheppard, and Dean Kelly on the bench. When I saw that initially I was wondering were they thinking that they would struggle here.
“They picked lots of midfielders, but they are a full-time outfit and I thought we acquitted ourselves quite well. I think they will be contenders. It is up to the manager because he has a great squad of players. How he manages them will be key. You have great players on the bench.
“They will certainly be a top four team along with Sligo Rovers, who we played in the first game. The performance in Sligo was very good. To push a team like Sligo, who only got a winner with three minutes to go was encouraging.
Though Athlone were soundly beaten by Rovers, Cooke remains optimistic about Athlone’s potential and believes the midlanders’ can improve. “I am positive about the attitude the lads showed. Obviously we made an individual error to go a goal down, but overall I thought the lads showed great character. Going in 0-2 at half-time I felt that if we could get one back, we were well in it.
“At the start of the second half we had a bit of pressure, but then to concede again was very disappointing. To go 0-3 down and keep playing the way we did was encouraging. We still made a game out of it and it has been a tough start playing Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers. From my point of view there have been more positives than negatives.” Points need to be pocketed starting in the capital tonight.