Each passing week brings another difficult assignment for Athlone Town, who welcome Cork City to Lissywollen this evening for a crucial SSE Airtricity League clash.
Despite suffering three defeats on the spin Mick Cooke remains optimistic that Athlone can adapt to life in the top flight. Last Friday’s reversal to UCD could have been avoided, but the Students just had enough craft to dig out a victory. Athlone were again left reflecting on the concession of two soft goals as a late Midlanders rally failed to yield a reward.
Now John Caulfield brings a City side with a wealth of League Of Ireland experience to Athlone. It promises to be an awkward game for Athlone, who need to be focused from the first whistle.
Caulfield is expecting it to be tricky for Cork, who have taken seven points so far in March. “Going to Athlone it is going to be very difficult,” Caufield said. “They are at home, it is an open ground. Usually it is windy there so we will have to deal with the elements. They are after coming up, Mick Cooke is building a new team.
“It has been a hard start for them, but sometimes when you are under the cosh you come out fighting. We have to be very careful because it is a very dangerous match.”
Plucky when losing to Sligo Rovers on the opening Saturday of the campaign, Athlone have room for improvement. Alan Byrne’s desire did manufacture a chance which Philly Gorman took at the UCD Bowl, but even though Athlone summoned a late burst of pressure they were unable to nick a leveller.
Ultimately it meant Athlone stayed pointless following three weeks so Cork’s visit carries real significance. Cooke’s domestic experience does provide hope because the SSE Airtricity League is a demanding environment in which to operate. Cooke’s strong history with Monaghan United and Drogheda United is a testament to extracting decent displays from restricted and limited resources.
New Cork boss Caulfield was busy during the close season attracting several high profile players Leeside. Anthony Elding’s bustling aggression up top combine with the wing smarts of Billy Dennehy ensure City should be able to create and convert opportunities. Athlone, though, will be somewhat heartened by how they have competed except for a spell either side of the interval against Rovers. The Hoops inflicted a bit of damage then, but Athlone did plough on defiantly and by the end of that contest Cooke had located crumbs of comfort.
Cooke did take positives from how Athlone performed at the campus venue too, but the reality is that another loss occurred. Arresting that sequence is the current mission and there is plenty resting on how Athlone deal with City. “Knowing the group as I do know them there is great strength of character there,” is Cooke’s verdict. “A couple of years ago I was in the same position in Monaghan with most of these players and we got through it. If we play like we did against UCD we will win more games than we lose.” Athlone will be eager to commence that winning spree on home turf tonight.