Salthill will find it hard to stop Athlone

Following a break for FAI Cup action the Airtricity League first division resumes tomorrow with both Galway teams facing tricky contests.

At Drom there will be a clash of bottom versus top as Salthill Devon entertain high-flying Athlone Town, who are edging closer to gaining promotion, while Johnny Glynn's Mervue United face the long trek to Ballybofey for a clash with Finn Harps.

Having suffered five defeats in a row, Salthill will be hoping for significant improvement in every department when a stingy Athlone side visit the west. Salthill's wretched run of results ensure they trail Cobh Ramblers by nine points and another last-placed finish appears imminent for Devon.

Despite positive performances midway through the campaign, Salthill have struggled since the departure of a string of key players. Without Enda Curran's goal poaching skill and Derek O'Brien's wing play, Salthill lack the necessary craft in the final third of the pitch. Jamie McGlynn and Graham Kelly, in particular, were others who had shown glimpses of ability and without them Salthill do not seem to have the depth to seriously test other outfits at this level.

Bereft of confidence, Salthill suffered another setback last Saturday week as Wexford Youths had enough to eke out a victory even though the visitors had equalised courtesy of Craig Harding. Aidan Keenan scored both sides of Harding's leveller to give Wexford the spoils as Salthill's failure to defend a set piece situation late on proved costly.

These are exciting times for Roddy Collins' Athlone, who have coped admirably with the pressure of being the first division standard bearers. A sequence of five victories on the trot offers ample evidence of how efficient the midlanders can be with Curran's capture adding immensely to Athlone's attacking threat. Paul Skinner has been a safe and solid custodian for Athlone, who have prevailed by 1-0 scoreline in five of their past seven fixtures.

Mervue's slim promotion prospects were boosted in their last game when Glynn's charges surprised Waterford United once more.

For some strange reason over the past 18 months the majority of Mervue's most impressive results have been delivered against the Blues. Gary Shanahan's effort stunned Waterford, who were left reflecting on what might have been.

Shanahan had been Mervue's goal scorer in the derby triumph over Salthill too and Mervue will be seeking to remain as diligent defensively in Donegal.

An away win would keep Mervue in play-off contention as they are currently only four points behind Waterford and Longford Town, which is a decent achievement. Mervue's form away from Fahy's Field, though, has been mixed with only three triumphs posted from their dozen matches. In Ballybofey Harps have won six and drawn three out of 12, which is a reasonable record, so Mervue are completely aware of how much value a good start will carry. --

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