New Athlone Town manager Roddy Collins took his place in the dugout for the second half of the game against Shelbourne in Tolka Park last Friday (12 May ), but was unable to prevent his new club from slipping to defeat.
Officially appointed just 24 hours earlier, the flamboyant Dubliner was anxious to get into the thick of things but will have noted that much work needs to be done in the coming weeks. The last time Collins was in charge of the Town back in 2013 promotion was secured but a 12-point gap now exists between Athlone and league leaders Waterford.
The opening half was scoreless, but two goals in 10 minutes following the resumption of play had the Reds on the road to a first win in six outings. Jason Lyons gave the visitors some hope when scoring late on but it proved to be just a consolation as the hosts got a major boost following five straight defeats.
Shelbourne were on top in the opening half but some poor finishing prevented them from taking a lead into half time. Four corner kicks were earned in the first 15 minutes alone, with Adam Evans guilty of some bad misses. Conor Barry had the first chance for Athlone while Cormac Raftery headed over a free kick taken by Jose Viegas.
Athlone earned their only first-half corner after 28 minutes, although they were seldom seen as an attacking force for long periods. Aaron Ashe had a further chance for Shelbourne, but the Town goal remained intact to the break.
Collins was on the side line for the second half but saw his new team go behind just before the hour mark. The deadlock was finally broken when a dead ball situation undid the Town rear-guard. David O’Leary sent in a free kick from the right and Derek Prendergast advanced to power a downward header to the net from close range.
It was a fifth goal of the season for the former Town defender, who is now second top scorer in the division. It was a deserved lead for the home side on the run of play, but Niall Scullion had a chance to grab an equaliser only for his shot to fly narrowly wide of the far post.
Three corners kept up the pressure, but Shels struck for a second score after 66 minutes. Aaron Ashe nipped in after Raftery had delayed in clearing the danger and found the net with a low finish.
Athlone were staring at defeat but rallied in the closing stages to reduce the deficit. Scullion sent in a cross from the right which was side-footed to the net by Lyons from the edge of the six-yard box.
With the visitors now pushing for an equaliser, Shelbourne should have made it three deep into stoppage time on the counter attack. Substitute James O’Brien, another former Athlone player, had a shot saved by Igor Labuts while Dale Rooney’s follow-up effort was cleared off the line.