It promises to be a revealing weekend for Athlone Town as Mick Cooke's side face two critical contests in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
Four defeats in a row to Sligo Rovers, Shamrock Rovers, UCD, and Cork City ensure the upcoming tussles with Drogheda United and Bohemians will be vital for the midlanders. Obviously Cooke’s in-depth knowledge of his former employers, Drogheda, will be beneficial as Athlone are fully intent on taking something from this evening’s trip to the Banks of the Boyne.
Then on Monday Bohemians will be the visitors to Lissywollen for another match packed with importance for Cooke's charges. Tough challenges are imminent for Athlone and Drogheda’s enterprising March means Robbie Horgan’s team won’t be short on confidence.
Drogs striker Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien, who had a brief stint with Athlone in 2010, insists they won’t get carried away despite an unbeaten first month. A resourceful Drogheda have won two and drawn two so far with O’Brien netting an opportunistic goal during last Friday’s victory over Limerick FC at Thomond Park.
“We have a good base of players with a lot of experience and if we all keep fit I feel we can do something,” O’Brien said. “It is a very positive and encouraging start, but it can all change in two games which isn't meaning to be negative.”
O’Brien is adamant that the visit of Athlone will be Drogheda’s toughest test to date. “Athlone next Friday will be our hardest game yet. These are the kind of games that you are expected to win, but if you are complacent you end up losing the game. We’ve only had a few good results so we aren’t getting carried away.”
O’Brien, who netted the decisive goal in Drogheda’s solid success over Limerick at Thomond Park, felt that display in the south west was satisfactory. “It was a great three points. We were confident coming down that we could get something and I think we showed that. We should have had the game out of sight because we created a couple of good chances after the goal. Barry Ryan, as usual, dug out a few worldly saves which kept them in the game. I thought we were comfortable enough.”
That was a view shared by manager Horgan. “It was a great performance, I was pleased with the attitude. We got a goal in the first half and we were delighted to keep a clean sheet and we worked very hard.”
An emphatic defeat to early season pace-setters Cork City was Athlone’s latest loss so the encounters with Drogheda and Bohs will be monitored with interest. Athlone crave and need to get results, but Cooke is nowhere near pressing the panic button yet. “I've been in this position before, but I have firm belief in the squad of players that I have got,” Cooke said. “Unfortunately one or two of the lads are picking up injuries. We lost Aidan Collins just before kick-off in Cork, but there is no panic. I believe in the lads and the performances are good. It is just that in the final third we aren't having any luck.” Athlone will be hoping that fortune favours them at United Park.