Athlone head to Drom with title in sight

With an announcement regarding a new Galway Airtricity League team imminent, the two local outfits in the current first division are in action tomorrow.

At Drom, Salthill Devon host table-toppers Athlone Town, who are on the verge of clinching promotion, while Mervue United make the long trek to Ballybofey for a contest with Finn Harps. The recent statistics do not augur well for Salthill, who have lost five matches in a row.

Those losses ensure Salthill trail second-from-bottom Cobh Ramblers by nine points and, barring a strange sequence of results, another last placed finish beckons. It is a pity because midway through the campaign there had been encouraging signs for Salthill, who were highly competitive until the start of August.

By then, though, Jumbo Brennan's side had lost the services of Jamie McGlynn, Derek O'Brien, and Enda Curran which deprived them of the quality that had been keeping them afloat. Since the July transfer window Salthill have been ailing and they are a side miserably low on confidence as was proven in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday.

In that encounter Salthill were very much in the reckoning, but they just lacked the craft to take something from their trip to the south east. Craig Harding had equalised for Salthill following an Aidan Keenan opener and, even partly due to the fact the visitors had played the majority of the fixture with 10 men, Wexford pounced at the death. Keenan nailed a last-gasp winner for Wexford in injury time as Salthill were ruthlessly punished for failing to deal with a routine set-piece situation.

Athlone will bring momentum to the west, having dug out five wins on the trot as they edge closer to the top flight once more. Roddy Collins has done a remarkable job with the midlanders, who have been especially efficient in the second half of the season with Curran's arrival significantly bolstering their attacking options.

Curran has been a key performer for Athlone, who have amazingly prevailed in five of their last seven matches on a 1-0 scoreline. That type of resilience and ability to deal with the heavy burden of expectancy confirms their coolness. A sixth straight triumph on the banks of the Corrib may be sufficient to give Athlone top-flight status depending on the outcome of Longford Town and Waterford United over the weekend.

Mervue's tendency to summon a performance against Waterford was maintained at Fahy's Field on Saturday as Gary Shanahan struck the decisive blow.

Shanahan had scored the only goal when Salthill were outfoxed the week previously too, so Johnny Glynn will be hoping the youngster can repeat the trick in Donegal.

It has been a disappointing year for Harps, who many expected to be involved at the business end of the standings. That is where Mervue find themselves and a win could keep them in play-off contention as they are merely four points behind Waterford and Longford.

Substitute Brendan Lavelle enjoyed an impressive late cameo for Mervue and will be pushing for inclusion after crafting the chance Gary Shanahan buried. Tom King, Martin Conneely, Marc Ludden, and Gary Curran were others who occupied prominent roles in Mervue's victory over Waterford. A similar level of grit and determination must be exhibited in Ballybofey if Mervue want to keep their slim play off aspirations alive.

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