Town face tough test away to Derry

Alan Byrne plays a central role in Long’s team. 
Photo: Sportsfile

Alan Byrne plays a central role in Long’s team. Photo: Sportsfile

It may be a strange sequence of results, but Athlone Town’s run of five SSE Airtricity League Premier Division draws in a row provides the Midlanders with ample encouragement that relegation can be avoided.

Solid and spirited at Lissywollen last Friday when dividing the spoils with Bohemians, Keith Long’s team are gaining in confidence. Athough still bottom, Long’s outfit is proving increasingly hard to beat as the recent spate of stalemates supplies evidence of Athlone’s improvement and growing resilience.

Long feels that Athlone can retain their top-flight status. “We believe, the management team and the players, that we are good enough to stay in this division,” Long said. “The thing about it is we have to give the supporters something to shout about. The onus is on us to go to win games. That is what we have tried to do. It is down to us, it is very much in our own hands. We are two points behind UCD with five games left to play.When we’d no points after 10 games, we’d have taken this scenario.

“It is fair to say that our need was far greater than Bohemians. We were poor in the first half, we were second in many ways. I felt we started a little slowly if I’m honest in the second half. We got ourselves back into the game, they had a man sent off and we seemed to get a bit of momentum then. We huffed and puffed a little bit, we didn’t create too many clearcut chances. We lacked a little bit of quality in the final third. Overall I’m a little bit disappointed with the draw. It is another point on the board and we are another point closer to the teams above us. We didn’t lose so that is a positive.”

The Brandywell is an intimidating venue so Athlone must be defiant again when they face Derry City. Since the outset of the year Derry have been erratic, but there is no doubt about the Candystripes’ ability especially when the mood strikes.

Having advanced to the semi-finals of the FAI Ford Cup, Derry are on the hunt for silverware. Derry’s seasonal objective is to glean that trophy, but the players will be anxious to impress in the league fixtures to enhance their selection claims.

Peter Hutton’s strong links and respect of Derry’s deep tradition ensures the Candystripes’ followers are hopeful of making an impact during the next couple of years. Always willing to give youth its fling, Derry tap into the local game expertly and are an example in how to develop a pathway for youngsters to graduate. So many footballers have come through the Derry ranks in the past decade.

Derry encountered some bother in their quarter final with Drogheda United before cruising to an emphatic replay success. Drogs were depleted for that clash due to several suspensions, but Derry took maximum advantage ruthlessly dismantling the Boynesiders. That Derry performance showed exactly what Hutton’s charges can achieve if given space so Athlone’s midfield unit must be industrious from the first whistle. Long’s careful additions to the squad have bolstered Athlone in this crucial department so it will be interesting to see how the Midlanders set themselves up. Long, though, is adamant about how central Alan Byrne and Derek Prendergast’s leadership skills are.

“Alan Byrne and Derek Prendergast are guys you want in the trenches with you. They are characters, they lead from the front, and they set an example for the rest of the players. They are honest, they are a good partnership. They set the example for us all. Our performances have to be disciplined, we want to be difficult opponents for whoever we play against. Obviously that is a platform the lads have built. It was our first clean sheet in a number of weeks and I’m happy with that. It is not just the back four, it starts with Philly (Gorman ) up front right through the middle of the park being organised, disciplined, and competitive.”

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