Three Athlone Town victories in their past seven SSE Airtricity League Premier Division games ensures Keith Long’s improving team have given themselves a chance of beating the drop.
A demanding spell awaits Athlone, though, as Sunday’s trip to Oriel Park for a clash with table toppers Dundalk will test the Midlanders resources and resolve.
Dundalk’s recent schedule has been stuffed with important fixtures as Hadjuk Split visited County Louth last night for a Europa League qualifier so it will be interesting to monitor whether Athlone benefit from the fact that Stephen Kenny’s side have faced so many challenges.
Avoiding relegation is Athlone’s 2014 mission so unsurprisingly manager Long was content following the cool and clinical win over Limerick FC at Lissywollen last Friday. “It was very satisfying,” Long admitted. “I was really happy with the performances, but more importantly we got the result. We asked the players to bridge the gap on the team above us and we are did that. From that point of view we really happy with another clean sheet too so it was a good night’s work.”
UCD’s triumph over Sligo Rovers means six points separate Athlone from safety, but considering the diligent manner in which the Midlanders have been performing Long remains adamant that relegation can be dodged. “We have asked the players to give us everything that they have and to be honest they have done that since we came in. We have given ourselves a fighting chance. Really we are only starting. We are pleased, but we know that the job is not done, it is only starting. We have a lot to do, there are a lot of games to play and we must keep showing the same fight.”
Dundalk’s league form at Oriel is efficient with six triumphs and three draws posted from their nine fixtures. Athlone’s away record features only one draw alongside eight defeats, but Long is still hopeful of causing a shock. “Every game in this League is a tough game. There are no handy three points. We will go to the league leaders on Sunday, we will be confident of putting in a disciplined performance. From that point of view we will relish that challenge.
“It doesn’t matter who we play we will relish the challenge. We will look after ourselves. We will try to be as organised as we can possibly be. Sunday will be no different.”
With the domestic July transfer window open Long is eager to bolster his squad, but isn’t prepared to rush into deals. “We are working hard to bring a player or two in. We are very conscious about the financial restraints we are working within at the club. Any player we bring in we will try to do good housekeeping in that regard. We do have our eye on one or two players that we’d like to bring in to strengthen things. We have no news, but we are working on a couple of different options.”
The Athlone boss doesn’t envisage that too many will leave the first team squad either to facilitate new additions. “We won’t necessarily have to move people on, but being realistic we don’t want too big of a squad. We want to keep it as lean as we possibly can, but still have strength in depth and ensure that there is competition for places. At the same time we don’t want to overload the squad with numbers just for the sake of it.”