Athlone Town ended their 2016 league campaign on a losing note as Cobh Ramblers secured the three points they needed to make the promotion play-offs at the Athlone Town stadium last Saturday night.
The home side ended the season in bottom place but battled hard to try and give their long-suffering supporters something to cheer about in their final outing of the season. However, Cobh were not about to slip up and, with their destiny in their own hands, a first-half goal from Rob Lehane and a second late on from substitute Matthew Whelan sealed the win needed, Drogheda United now the opposition in the quest for promotion to the Premier Division.
Athlone made two changes from the team that had lost in Waterford, with Jamie Quinn returning in goal in place of Dylan Owens and Roy King coming in for the injured Aidan Byrne.
Nothing less than a win would suffice for the visitors. Cobh were on the attack from the first whistle and could have wrapped up the points by half time had they converted all of the early chances they created into goals.
Full back Ian Mylod started the Ramblers’ dominance when firing off-target inside the opening minute. The woodwork rescued the Town moments later as Eoin McGreevy’s strike from outside the penalty area hit the upright. Stephen Christopher also looked to open the scoring, but when one-on-one with the goalkeeper allowed Quinn to advance and block his shot.
Athlone’s first chance came after 20 minutes when Jason Lyons set up Conor Barry, but the resulting shot from the Town’s top scorer was saved by the Cobh keeper.
Lehane finally broke the deadlock with 26 minutes played when the striker was on hand to fire into the net following Christopher’s inviting cross from the right. Athlone, although offering little in response, were still dangerous on the counter attack and from set pieces. A first corner kick was earned after 32 minutes with a second following moments later. Lehane had three further chances late in the opening half with Darren Murphy ending the action going just wide with his shot following a corner kick to leave Cobh narrowly ahead at the break.
Colin Fortune’s men came more into contention following the resumption of play and there was always the possibility of an equaliser as the Town attacked with renewed vigour. Athlone, though, needed a win to have any chance of overhauling Cabinteely and consigning the Dublin team to last position. Barry had a couple of chances when firstly his free kick was cleared behind by Murphy and then a similar effort was drilled straight at Paul Hunt.
The early home pressure continued as a dangerous right-wing cross from Claudio Silva was gathered by the keeper, and two further corners kept the heat on an anxious Cobh. Conor Ellis was introduced by Ramblers and had a good strike on goal parried by Quinn.
The outcome was still in the balance as full time approached, and while Lyons came close after 86 minutes for the Town, the away win was finally sealed a minute later as substitute Matthew Whelan made an instant impact to powerfully head home a left-wing cross from Shane O’Connor. Christopher had a late chance to make it three nil late on, while Athlone were denied what would have been a mere consolation score in the last minute of stoppage time.
A free kick handed the Town a final chance at taking the bare look off the score, but Ryan Gaffey’s attempt, although deflecting off the defensive wall, fell kindly for Hunt who gratefully gathered the ball close to his chest. The final whistle sounded almost immediately and signalled a pitch invasion by the travelling support who celebrated with their team.
Following this latest defeat, Athlone ended the season at the foot of the table for the first time since 2005 with just three wins in 28 games. It has been a forgettable campaign, full of drama both on and off the pitch.