Following two defeats against SSE Airtricity Premier Division title contenders Dundalk and St Patrick’s Athletic, Athlone Town know that some sort of dividend must be attained at the Carlisle Grounds.
Ravaged by severe financial difficulties Bray Wanderers have been ailing in recent weeks suffering six defeats on the spin so Athlone will be keen to exploit the Seagulls’ uncertainty. Despite a brave, battling display against champions St Patrick’s Athletic, the midlanders just weren’t clinical enough converting.
Chris Forrester’s sixth minute goal might have given the Dubliners the initiative, but Athlone were spirited and committed finding a way back into the reckoning. Unfortunately, though, Philly Gorman, Sean Brennan, James O’Brien, and Ian Sweeney were unable to convert opportunities that were created before Sean Hoare headed an insurance goal for the Saints. While Bray’s form is wretched, Athlone have only taken four points from a possible 18 themselves so improvement is necessary.
With Keith Long absent due to a prior engagement, Eddie Wallace took charge of Athlone on Saturday and the stand-in boss felt the midlanders could have taken something from the clash with Liam Buckley’s charges. “I think in periods of the game we did well, in the second half in particularly we did very well,” Wallace reflected. “We were in the ascendancy, but didn’t score. Goals change games. They got the second goal and that was it for us really. But I was happy with the application of our players.”
Impressed by Athlone’s attitude and application, Saints manager Liam Buckley acknowledged that his team simply wanted to respond following the humbling Champions League qualifier reversal to Legia Warsaw. “We just did enough to win,” Buckley admitted. “After the midweek result and performance which was disappointing it was important that we came down here bearing in mind we had a few lads coming in that haven’t played in recent weeks, but we still did enough to win the game and get three points.
“All of the guys that stepped in did enough, we made hard work of it. When you have a performance like we did during the week having a match as quick as you can is important. We have three points which puts us into a European spot.”
Ensuring that Pat’s feature in European competition again in 2015 is the aim according to Buckley. “It is important for us. We are looking to go on a bit of a run here. We will have guys back from injury which will strengthen us. We will be looking to make sure we are competitive from here until the end of the season. We will see where that takes us.
“We can only look as far as Sligo next Friday. We are trying to keep ourselves in the mix. At the start of the season our aim was to get back into Europe again. That is still the ambition, but four teams are chasing three spots so somebody is going to get squeezed out there.”
With Bray only registering one point in nine matches, confidence is dwindling following a satisfying start to the year by the Seagulls. Athlone, though, know that a positive result must be posted. Despite the latest loss to Pat’s, Wallace is adamant that Athlone, who are six points behind Bray and UCD, can avoid the drop. “We have hope. We think we can get out of this situation. We’ll look forward to the next game and hopefully we can get something out of that.
“We were missing a few players against St Pat’s as well - Alan Byrne for example; we had three players out. I’m not making any excuses, the boys who were out there, that’s what the squad is about and I thought they did alright.”
Wallace didn’t downplay the importance of the imminent trip to Wicklow. “Against Bray is a big one. Bray are as competitive as we are so hopefully we’ll do alright.”
Athlone have yet to sample a victory away from Lissywollen in 2014, but a better chance won’t present itself to terminate that worrying statistic.