Still without an SSE Airtricity League Premier Division point, Athlone Town will be intent on taking some sort of dividend from this evening’s trip to the Brandywell for a clash with Derry City.
The Candystripes, managed by former Athlone boss Roddy Collins, have won one and drawn three of their opening half-dozen fixtures. Athlone need the confidence a positive result would bring, but boss Mick Cooke is nowhere near pressing the panic button.
Patience is required according to Cooke. “It is disappointing to have no points, but we’ve had some tough opponents to play,” Cooke said. “We’ve put in some good performances especially in Belfield where I felt we should have got something. I thought the lads showed great character in Drogheda going from three down to bring it back to three-two and of course there was a disappointing defeat up in Sligo. We are beset with a lot of injuries at the moment and it is very hard to get my first XI on the park.
“I have faith in my ability. I have been here before in this position with Drogheda in my first season. The big aim this year is to keep Athlone Town in the Premier Division. I will show faith in these players as they have done it with Drogheda and Monaghan before.
“Most of these lads got promotion with Monaghan so the ability is there. We have been unfortunate with injuries which hasn’t allowed me pick my strongest XI yet.”
That has been a factor for Athlone, who were spirited in Monday’s Lissywollen encounter with Bohemians, but the Midlanders were unable to force a draw. Last Friday the enduring excellence of Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien was the chief reason why Drogheda took the full complement of spoils following an interesting tussle with Athlone.
Cooke accepted O’Brien’s opportunism was decisive. “Fabio O’Brien is one of the best strikers in the country and has been for many years. He got a fantastic goal in the first half, but either side of that goal we missed simple chances. The second goal we gave away was a schoolboy error and losing goals from set pieces isn’t nice.
“The lads showed great strength of character to get back into the game. When we had the momentum Stephen Quigley was sent off.”
Suspension will rule Derek Prendergast out of the Derry game so there will be an Athlone defensive reshuffle. Cooke is adamant that Quigley, equally comfortable at full-back and in central midfield, can make an impact with Athlone.
“He can bring experience to the team. He served me very well at Drogheda and Monaghan. Unfortunately last year was cut short for him due to an ankle injury, but he is back fully fit now. He gives us experience and in the Premier Division you need a big squad of 22 or 23 players.
“Every game is very competitive. The way they are dishing out cards now it won’t be very long until players are missing games.”
A string of injuries have disrupted Cooke’s preparations and the Athlone supremo expects Aidan Collins, forced off at the interval against Bohemians, to miss matches during the year with a lingering shoulder issue. “Aidan had a serious problem with one of his shoulders as a young lad and it comes back to affect him. He picked an injury up against Shamrock Rovers and he is going to miss a number of games during the season. We cannot afford to be without his experience.” Athlone will be striving to frustrate Derry at the Brandywell in a deeply important contest.