Athlone Town were holding out to collect a valuable point against second-placed Cobh Ramblers last Friday night (September 1 ) when the visitors struck for a winning goal deep into stoppage time.
Prior to this, the bottom club had more than matched their lofty opponents only to be caught out by a sickening sucker punch right at the end.
Out of the FAI Cup and with little apparently to play for but pride, Athlone were surprisingly lively in the early stages against the team they had last recorded a league victory against. Not since May have Athlone claimed all three points from a league outing, but early indications were that a long-awaited win could be on the cards.
Etanda Nkololo has been a revelation since joining the club and had an early chance from a Claudio Silva pass. Cobh keeper Paul Hunt, though, got down at his near post to make the save. Nkololo was further denied by the Cobh number one as the home side chased an early opening. Hunt yet again saved from the Town winger and a sluggish Cobh team had to wait until the midway point of the half before testing the home goalkeeper. Ian Mylod firing straight at Igor Labuts.
As half time approached, Ramblers became more of an attacking force with a free kick from Ian Leonard flying wide and a corner kick cleared to safety. The half ended scoreless however with neither side creating enough chances to make a breakthrough.
Athlone had a couple of early corner kicks on the resumption of play, with a header from Stephen Walsh going straight at the keeper. Nkololo continued to torment the Ramblers rear-guard and was again denied by Hunt after 50 minutes. Conor Layng continued the home pressure, with substitute Rob Spellman’s free kick clearing the crossbar.
With a quarter of an hour remaining, James McSweeney might have opened the scoring for Cobh, but Labuts got down well to make the save. As the game entered its closing stages there was still little to separate the sides. Points dropped by Ramblers could have proved fatal in their attempts at catching league leaders Waterford. With this in mind, the visitors began to increase the pressure on the Town goal as full time approached.
Labuts denied Darren Murphy following a free kick while a McSweeney header from a corner went narrowly wide. As the game headed into stoppage time, it looked like Athlone would put a major dent in Cobh’s title hopes, but there was a late sting in the tail from Ramblers. The hosts attempted to clear the danger down their left in the third additional minute but only played the ball as far as an opponent.
The ball was quickly returned into the penalty area where Cian Coleman got to the ball before Labuts with his looping header finding the net. It was the cue for wild celebrations among the visiting supporters as an away victory was stolen right at the death.