Any game against a team representing Shamrock Rovers is a tough one, as Athlone Towns U16s found out at home under the floodlights last Saturday night.
The home side deserved better from this contest as they created more goal-scoring chances, but Rovers made the most of their limited opportunities to return home with full points. After falling behind just before the hour mark, Athlone went further into arrears late on, a goal with five minutes remaining arriving too late to allow the hosts the chance to mount a grandstand comeback.
With a full-strength squad to pick from, Athlone began brightly as they looked to keep the pressure on league leaders St Joseph's, and they almost had a dream start when a left-wing cross flashed invitingly across the Rovers' goalmouth. Unfortunately, Nashir Ishola was unable to get a touch to guide the ball home.
After this early Athlone dominance, Rovers settled and had a couple of chances to open the scoring, but the next good chance again fell to the home side after 17 minutes. Adam Cronin sent the ball across the box to Jordan Carr whose shot was blocked by the goalkeeper, the follow-up attempt blocked by a Rovers defender. The home side had a further chance soon after when Liam Brennan set up Jack Bryant, but his attempted chip was gathered by the keeper.
Midway through the first half, Athlone were out of luck as the woodwork came to the rescue of Rovers when Carr saw his shot crash off the bar. Rovers' best chance in the opening half arrived after 33 minutes when Lee McEntee headed against the post. The final home chance of the half fell to Brennan whose snap shot went just wide as the half surprisingly ended without a score.
On the resumption of play Rovers earned a corner kick that came to nothing. Athlone replied when Bryant fired off target. Home number six, Ishola, then tried to round the Rovers' keeper but shot off target, with a further attempt on goal from Carr cleared off the line.
A series of corner kicks for the home side appeared to have Athlone in control, but just before the hour mark Rovers struck the opener in clinical fashion. A swift counter-attack saw the Hoops race clear, Jack Kelly completing the move with a neat finish into the net. The Hoops looked to build on their goal tally with the best chance falling to goalscorer Kelly, but his shot went just over the bar.
Carr fired wide for Athlone after 74 minutes, but Rovers doubled their lead soon after as a dead ball delivery unhinged the home defence. A corner taken by Thomas Hannon was headed home by substitute Thomas Murphy as Athlone failed to mark up in the penalty area.
Four substitutions were made in the second half by Athlone, but in spite of a late goal the home side were unable to get back on level terms before the finish. Fresh legs enabled Athlone to end the game on the offensive, but once more Rovers had luck on their side in the closing stages.
Carr was proving to be a handful for Rovers, and after 83 minutes was again out of luck when his goal-bound strike was pushed onto the bar by the keeper, the resulting corner kick failing to trouble the Rovers goal. The home side finally found the net with five minutes remaining as Brennan lobbed the advancing keeper from inside the penalty area after a long ball forward had caught out the visiting defence.
With a goal finally to their credit, Athlone now went in pursuit of an equalising score but it proved to be the last goalmouth action of the game as the referee blew up just shy of the 90 minutes and without playing any additional time.
Athlone's frustration was obvious as enough chances had been created in both halves to win any game. In contrast, Rovers celebrated but must know they were somewhat fortunate to head back to Dublin with all three points, having struck twice in devastating fashion.