Every fixture until the end of the SSE Airtricity League of Ireland Premier Division season carries huge significance for Athlone Town, who host St Patrick’s Athletic at Lissywoolen tomorrow evening.
Liam Buckley’s Saints were comprehensively beaten by in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League qualifier by Legia Warsaw at Tallaght Stadium so they will be especially eager to retain the domestic crown they claimed so convincingly last year.
Pat’s trail Dundalk by nine points with 13 matches left so the current margin for error is slim. It means the upcoming clash with Athlone is critical considering Pat’s have only claimed two victories in their most recent five League encounters.
Despite a resilient Athlone display top of the table Dundalk were still able to defeat the Midlanders at Oriel Park last Sunday. Dundalk, who continue to produce solid performances, had too much depth and craft for Athlone, who were gutsy following the concession of two soft goals initially.
The Dundalk players were respectful of Athlone’s grit and determination with man of the match Kurtis Byrne commenting “It was a good result for us because Athlone came in full of confidence, but I thought we did a professional job”.
Lilywhites’ winger Daryl Horgan reckons there is cause for Athlone optimism because of the fact that Keith Long’s side have won three of their last eight matches.“It was a sticky game, maybe it wasn’t the prettiest game of football you’d ever watch, but every three points count. Every team is going to have a purple patch and Athlone are going very well at the moment,” Horgan said.
Dundalk striker Pat Hoban was relieved Stephen Kenny’s charges seized the initiative. “I was delighted to score again, we now have six points from our last two League games,” Hoban said. “It is good to keep the run going. It was very important to get the first goal because they were sitting off and they could have made it hard for us. Those games can be very difficult when a team sits off, but it was good to get two goals early. We were a bit complacent in the second half, they could have came back, at the end of the day we got the three points to keep us on top of the table.
“Maybe a bit of fatigue set in a small bit because we’ve had a very heavy schedule. That is where the squad comes into play. Three points is what we needed and it is what we got. There is no doubt about it. We are a stronger squad than we were last year. We have a lot of options and it is great to have them. The squad is very important for us.”
Dundalk certainly appear to have sufficient talent to maintain their title push and Brian Gartland was content with how it unfolded. “It was a great three points for us to get, in between European games the result was the main thing. The performance could have been better. First half we were good, in the second half I felt we took our foot off the gas a bit.”
Away from Lissywoolen Athlone’s record is woeful so returning to home turf where Long has guided the Midlanders to three triumphs since May offers encouragement. Ultimately the successes over UCD, Drogheda United, and Limerick FC will be remembered for the spirited manner in which Athlone defended as three of the four clean sheets registered in 2014 occurred in those wins. Attempting to disturb Pat’s passing rhythm is the mission Athlone must accomplish if the gap on UCD and Bray Wanderers is to be reduced.