Buoyed up by a splendid display against title-chasing Cork City, Athlone Town will be hoping to maintain their improved SSE Airtricity League Premier Division form when facing Drogheda United away this evening.
Three draws on the spin confirms how difficult Athlone are to beat presently as Keith Long’s diligent work may yet culminate in steering the Midlanders to an unexpected top flight survival. Regardless of what happens, Long has garnered the support of Athlone followers impressed by the development of the first team.
Through sheer hard graft and assisted by some canny transfer window acquisitions Athlone’s points account has increased significantly. Arguably the most encouraging trait Athlone have demonstrated, though, is defiance under pressure.
In Athlone’s two most recent matches at Lissywollen they’ve admirably fought their way back into the reckoning earning a dividend on both occasions. Stalemates against teams of Shamrock Rovers’ and Cork’s calibre proves how far Athlone have travelled in a very short space of time.
Drogheda have made advances under Damien Richardson and Darius Kierans stewardship. Two emphatic successes over Ballynanty Rovers in the FAI Ford Cup and Limerick FC in the League offered evidence of the threat Drogheda carry. There is a potent mix of youth and experience in the Drogheda ranks which is something Richardson reckons is hugely beneficial.
Richardson is adamant that Drogheda will approach every contest between now and the end of the campaign with the correct attitude. “A lot of people are saying to me ‘You’re mid-table, you’ve nothing to play for’ - I don’t agree with that at all,” Richardson said.
“At my age you’ve everything to play for. Every game is a big game. I’m delighted to be involved with a good group of players. This is a good club, it is thoroughly enjoyable and I want to win every game.
“It was a good win in Limerick. The first half I was a bit disappointed with us making elementary mistakes. We controlled possession, but we gave the ball away which allowed Limerick to break and that caused too many problems for my liking.
“We sorted that out at half-time so in the second half we didn’t give the ball away. Consequently we got three goals on the back of that. The key as always is being able to get possession of the ball, retain possession of the ball and to not give it away carelessly. The difference in the two halves meant it was very rewarding for me, we looked a decent team.”
Despite all of Athlone’s industry they remain rooted to the bottom of the table, but Drogheda chief Richardson insists his team will treat the Midlanders’ challenge with the utmost respect. “Our performance in Limerick reflected very well on what is happening on the training ground. We will be fighting until the very end in all competitions there will be no such thing as mid-table games of no importance.
“We are still in the FAI Cup, we want to finish as high as we can in the League. The game against Athlone Town is now the next most important game. That is how we are going to approach it for the rest of the year.”
Worryingly Athlone’s record on the road features only three draws and 10 defeats from their 13 fixtures so Long’s charges will be eager to cause a surprise on the banks of the Boyne. Drogheda have won five, drawn two, and lost six at United Park so well organised outfits have prevailed there.
Forced to embark on gutsy comebacks when drawing with the Hoops and Cork, Athlone crave a positive start against Drogheda. With UCD hosting Limerick and Bray Wanderers visiting Bohemians, others battling to avoid the drop might register positive results so there is no denying the relevance of Athlone’s trip to County Louth.