Three games in six days for the Town

It promises to be a hectic week for Athlone Town in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division as Keith Long’s side face three games in six days. Tallaght Stadium will be the venue for the first of those on Saturday evening as Athlone face a tricky test against Shamrock Rovers. Trevor Croly’s outfit are keen to make a bold bid for the title so Athlone will need to summon a defiant and diligent display. Turning Athlone into a solid defensive unit is what Long intends to do with the Midlanders. “The reaction has been good, the players have been relatively positive in terms of their attitude to training and they have worked really hard,” Long said. “Sometimes it can be difficult when you come into a situation when players are struggling for confidence, but we didn’t find that to be the case.” Athlone did spurn a gilt-edged chance when missing a penalty against Bray Wanderers a fortnight ago, but Long was encouraged by the performance. “Obviously getting the opportunity so late in the game, to pass up the penalty miss was disappointing. However it was our first clean sheet of the season and we only had one training session prior to the game against Bray. From my point of view in terms of my tenure at the club it was a positive result. It is something we can hopefully build upon. “There is still a belief amongst the squad. Obviously they had lost a number of games by the odd goal so they weren’t too far off. We have got to harness that belief by trying to get ourselves organised defensively and by being a little bit harder to beat in the short term. “We have to try to pick up some points along the way and the message to the players will be to make ourselves hard to beat. No matter who we play we have to up our performance. We want to raise our performance by 10 or 15 per cent across the squad. Hopefully that will give us a chance of picking up some points.” Long has acknowledged that the next week carries huge significance for Athlone. “We have a tough schedule. After the Shamrock Rovers game we have Sligo Rovers and UCD so we have three games in six days. That will be a tough ask. The two Rovers will be at the higher end of the table and they will be good teams. We will be up against it. Three games in six days is a tough ask with a small squad, but we have to try to be as positive as we can. “We have to work with the squad of players we have. We have to get the best out of the players we have. They are all disappointed how the season has gone so far, but it is important to have belief that we can turn things around. It is a tough job, we are under no illusions. Anybody would agree with that, but there are plenty of points left to be won and lost.” Having gained extensive coaching experience with Bray, Long is relishing the challenge of trying to make an impact now with Athlone. “I was shortlisted and I met the club at the time. I made no secret that I was interested in the job. I believe Athlone Town is a good opportunity for someone like myself. I’ve had a number of years being assistant, head coach, and joint manager at Bray so this is an opportunity for me to step out on my own. It is a chance for me to try to establish myself as a League of Ireland manager. “Athlone obviously have a good tradition, it is a good footballing town with a relatively new stadium. Hopefully we can get it right on the pitch. They’ve had a long spell in the First Division and we don’t want to be in the First Division. We want to keep the team in the Premier Division which will be tough, but not impossible. I’m ready for the challenge and hopefully the whole squad will believe in us. We will be a bit more organised defensively and let’s see where that takes us.”

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