Crucial contest against Limerick tonight

Despite a lively performance Athlone Town were defeated by Derry City at Lissywollen last Sunday which ensures tonight’s SSE Airtricity League Premier Division clash with Limerick FC at the same venue is a crucial contest.

Keith Long’s side were spirited against the Candystripes, but a stunning Patrick McEleney free-kick guided Peter Hutton’s side to an away victory. Now Athlone will be hoping to take advantage of any Limerick confusion following the departure of manager Stuart Taylor on Tuesday.

Having spent a season and a half in charge of the Superblues, Taylor explained the decision: “I have really enjoyed my time as manager of Limerick FC and I am very proud of the progress made and what has been achieved by the club over the last 18 months. I do now, however, feel that the time is right for me to step away from the club.

“I would like to thank club officials for the continued support they have given me throughout my time here as manager. Their determination along with the commitment of loyal supporters and local clubs have played a significant role in the progress made by Limerick FC. I want to also acknowledge the huge effort given by my players and backroom staff since my arrival at the club and I wish all connected with the Limerick FC the best for the future.”

Tommy Barrett, who is a former Athlone player, will join the remaining senior management team at Limerick ahead of this evening’s clash. Before the midseason break Limerick had acquired some form in the league winning three matches in a row, but they have been rocked by defeats against Cork City and Gypsies.

Last month Limerick exited the FAI Ford Cup as Bohemians won at Thomond Park in that competition also, so the Treaty outfit are in major need of a boost. A key figure in their hat-trick of wins over St Patrick’s Athletic, Drogheda, and UCD was Danny Galbraith, who has left Limerick at the end of his contract.

Even taking Galbraith’s departure into account Limerick’s squad still includes decent attackers such as Rory Gaffney and Tam McManus. There is plenty of youth also in the Limerick ranks as James McGrath, Ross Mann, and Darragh Rainsford continue to be afforded chances at the highest level in this country.

Limerick’s central defensive partnership of Samuel Oji and Stephen Folan is well respected so Athlone will need to produce a solid performance. This year with Taylor in charge Limerick usually opted for Shane Duggan, Prince Agyemang, and Jason Hughes as a three-man midfield unit and a similar set-up is expected to be in operation against Athlone.

It means that Athlone, who drew a midweek friendly with Dundee United at Lissywollen, must be resilient early on as Limerick can be dangerous when the mood strikes. Athlone trail second from bottom UCD by six points so cutting the gap is of paramount importance considering matches with Dundalk and St Patrick’s Athletic will be next on the agenda.

Under Long, Athlone have more often than not proven to be rugged opponents and maintaining such a diligent work ethic is what needs to be done for the 15 critical fixtures that await. Long will trust that goalkeeper Paul Skinner can perform behind an improving defence which has been marshalled by Alan Byrne and Derek Prendergast. Further up the park Kealon Dillon, Graham Rusk, and Philly Gorman will need to manufacture and take chances as Athlone seek to avoid an instant return to the First Division.

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