An exciting SSE Airtricity League first division season continues tomorrow when Galway United travel to Lissywollen for a crucial clash against Athlone Town (7.45pm ).
Friday’s stirring success over Shelbourne ensures John Caulfield’s team are now only seven points behind the table toppers with eight matches remaining.
It has been a demanding spell for Athlone, who suffered a heavy loss away to UCD with Adrian Carberry departing as manager. Considering Athlone were enterprising early on in the campaign, Caulfield is aware that an awkward assignment beckons.
“That is the beauty about this division, so many teams are so close together in terms of the player quality - if you underestimate anyone, you leave points behind you,” Caulfield says.
“The thing with Athlone, we know they had a phenomenal start to the season. They were top of the league after six or seven games, they were absolutely flying. They have gone through a period in recent times where they have been involved in some incredible games – a 3-3 cup game with Waterford where they narrowly lost in a penalty shootout. They had a 4-4 game with Wexford so they have been banging goals in.
“You look at the game against UCD at the weekend. It was absolutely a false scoreline. I watched the game twice. In the first 30 minutes Athlone had hit the inside of the post and had a ball cleared off the line. They were totally dominant in the game, they ended up going in at half-time, two nil down, scratching their heads – how did that happen?
“All of their team were available, but that can happen in a match where you look at a scenario where a team gets a third goal, they get confidence and the team that is losing can lose a bit of heart. Nobody wants to get beaten by that margin, but at the same time the week before Athlone drew nil all in Cobh, and by all accounts should have won the match.
“From that point of view every week is a different challenge. This turns into our most difficult game of the season. We must make sure that we don’t go down there with any complacency. If you do, you won’t take the points.”
Caulfield was satisfied with how United defeated Shels courtesy of goals from Shane Doherty, Killian Brouder, and Ruairi Keating.
“There were lots of positives in the performance,” Caulfield adds. “I keep saying that every week you need to be on your game as a collective group. If all of the lads are ready and prepared and leave it on the pitch, we are a very good side. The week before, seven days earlier, we conceded goals, and we didn’t do the things we planned to do and we lost three points.
“Every week is about the same challenge – the next three points, the next game. You are in the business end of the season where you have eight games to go. We have to be in the play-off positions and things are very tight.
“It was a good win, but we go this week to Athlone, an all weather pitch, a different surface than the rest of the first division teams. We have to prepare for that because they gave us a hockeying earlier in the season up there.”
Doherty and Mikie Rowe were recalled to the United starting XI, while Keating came off the bench to make a goalscoring contribution.
“You need that, competition for places is vital,” Caulfield replies. “It keeps everyone on their toes, particularly when you get guys having suspensions, injuries or lose a little bit of form. To be fair to Mikie Rowe and Shane Doherty they would have started the season in pre-season and into the season as starters in the team.
“They both have gone through a difficult spell of niggly injuries. They found it hard to get a clear run because of that. Thankfully Shane in the last couple of weeks, he scored away to Wexford, and he scored the other day, and was really good. Mikie came into the team and again was fantastic, he did brilliantly for the first goal.
“So it is great, thankfully at the moment bar the long term injuries – Francely Lomboto and Ronan Manning – the only short term one at the moment is Carlton [Ubaezuonu]. We are expecting he will be back in the next two weeks.”