Athlone got their season off to a flying start a few weeks ago with a shock win over pre-season title favourites Waterford, but just one win since then has seen the early season optimism disappear.
The Blues got revenge for that early setback with a narrow win at the RSC last Friday night (April 14 ), although Conor Barry missed a penalty kick for Athlone which would have levelled matters.
Reflecting the change in fortunes since the sides last met, Waterford went into the game as league leaders while Athlone had slipped back to sixth spot. The home side had two good chances inside the first five minutes to take the lead. After Kirils Grigorovs had committed a foul, Derek Daly was on target with the free kick but Igor Labuts got down to parry the ball away.
The Town keeper was called upon again soon after when he dived to push away a Mark O’Sullivan header. Walter Invernizzi and Dragos Sfrijan had two chances for the visitors, but survived a let-off when Shane O’Connor’s lob beat the advancing keeper but hit the post. Jose Viegas had a further chance for Athlone as off-target attempts from Dean O’Halloran and Kenny McEvoy ensured the half ended scoreless.
The deadlock was broken within a minute of the restart as Athlone lost possession from the kick off to concede a corner, which was finished to the net by O’Sullivan. A further corner almost saw the home side double their lead, but Garry Comerford’s header was pushed over by a busy Labuts. Athlone introduced Chris Rodrigues and he had two chances to score after joining the action.
When it seemed like the visitors might grab an equaliser, the Blues increased their lead just after the hour mark. Route one football saw O’Sullivan challenge the Town defence for possession from Matthew Connor’s kick out, with the former Cork City striker winning out to steer a low shot to the net.
Two nil down but an amazing five-minute spell up to the halfway mark in the half almost had Athlone back on level terms. The response was immediate as Rodrigues picked up on a right wing cross to find the net from twelve yards range. The substitute was then taken down close to the end line and a penalty kick handed Athlone the chance to grab an equaliser.
Barry stepped forward to take the spot kick, but the attempt was poor as Connor dived to his right to make the save. It proved to be Athlone’s last chance of scoring and further Blues pressure saw O’Sullivan almost complete his hat trick in the last minute, only to be denied by Labuts.
A miserable Easter weekend concluded on Monday (April 17 ) when the Town made an early exit from the Leinster Senior Cup at the hands of Cabinteely at Stradbrook. A goal from veteran striker Jason Byrne handed the home side a half-time lead while two late goals ended Athlone’s interest in the 2017 competition.