Eight SSE Airtricity League Premier Division fixtures remain for Athlone Town, who have taken ample encouragement from last weekend’s two draws.
With the FAI Ford Cup taking centre stage domestically and Athlone already knocked out of that competition, the Midlanders aren’t in action until next Friday at Lissywollen when Cork City will be the visitors.
Stalemate against Shamrock Rovers and UCD provided Athlone with a dollop of hope that relegation can be avoided. The manner in which Athlone thwarted the Hoops showcased their battling qualities which pleased manager Keith Long. Ian Sweeney’s stunning goal 10 minutes from the end of an interesting match thrilled Long, who is adamant Athlone can climb off the bottom of the table. “We were very pleased to get a point against Rovers,” Long reflected. It was a great goal to salvage something from the game for us.
“It was important we got something out of the Rovers game, we were delighted to get a point, it was a wonder finish by Ian Sweeney. He is capable of coming off the bench to do that.”
On Monday Athlone divided the spoils with the Students at the UCD Bowl and Long accepts that there is a bit more depth to the Midlanders squad compared to a couple of months ago. “It is something we have worked on. We spoke to the group and we wanted to put in place an environment for them in which there is competition for places.
“That can only be of benefit to us and the work we’ve put in ensures there is a healthy competition for places. At this stage of the season every club will suffer injuries and suspensions, but how you deal with them is important.
“We’ve added some good, young hungry players, who are keen to do well with us. We want to help them in their careers too so everybody benefits. What we must do is make sure we are competitive for the rest of the season, but I don’t see why we won’t be.”
It is hard to disagree with that assertion because there has been an admirable spirit about Athlone’s approach in recent weeks. Long’s diligent work ensures Athlone are only five points behind both Bray Wanderers and UCD.
Obviously the failure to win at the campus venue on Monday was slightly disappointing considering Athlone had been so plucky frustrating the Hoops three days previously. Critical contests are arriving thick and fast with title-chasing Cork next on the agenda at Lissywollen on Friday August 29.
That will be a hugely significant joust for Athlone and Cork, but this month’s evidence ensures Long’s side can embrace that demanding task enthusiastically. Twelve of the 14 points Athlone have accumulated during an exacting season have been posted on home soil so the Midlanders will need to improve their results on the road.
The next three fixtures, though, will be crucial spell for Athlone as matches with Drogheda United and Bohemians follow the Cork clash. How Athlone fare in the upcoming 270 minutes of action will be revealing as they seek to trim the deficit on Bray and UCD. Narrowing the gap further is what Athlone must do quickly and the upcoming assignments provide an ideal opportunity for the Midlanders to continue their daring quest to complete a stirring survival mission.