Ninety minutes at two different venues on Friday will define Athlone Town’s SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season.
Keith Long’s Midlanders face Bray Wanderers at Lissywollen, UCD host Drogheda United, and the simple fact of the matter is Athlone must better the Students’ result. That is what Athlone need to do to secure a promotion/relegation play-off berth, but as last weekend proved anything can happen at this late stage in the domestic calendar.
Athlone secured their most impressive victory of the campaign defeating St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park. Philly Gorman and the increasingly influential Kealan Dillon grabbed the goals, but worryingly UCD were ending a wretched run of form at the exact same time in the Brandywell outwitting Derry City. Mark Langtry landed the decisive blow ensuring Athlone remain rooted to the foot of the table despite their heroics in Inchicore.
Similar dynamism must be demonstrated on home turf against a Bray side Long is familiar with. Having contributed so much during Pat Devlin’s days at the Carlisle Grounds, Long knows all about the young talent Bray possess. Long’s background with Bray provides an extra layer of intrigue as he seeks to guide Athlone to an 11th placed finish. Considering Athlone were pointless following 10 matches an instant relegation appeared inevitable, so it is quite a feat that the Town have a live chance of retaining top flight status.
Gorman rediscovered his goalscoring touch in the Pat’s triumph to nick a ninth of the campaign. Throughout a difficult spell since August Gorman battled defiantly for the Athlone cause and such enthusiasm was rewarded when the need was greatest.
Dillon has been a success story during 2014 operating in several positions with commendable assurance. Dillon’s cross channel career saw him feature for Derby County, Hull City, and St Mirren, so Long has tapped into that pedigree and potential. The willingness Dillon has shown has been a feature and another abrasive midfield performance is necessary.
Having endured their own problems on and off the park Bray are content that they have avoided any late hiccups or drama. The resolve and resilience Bray exhibited when drawing with title-chasing Dundalk confirmed they aren’t in holiday mode just yet. Alan Mathew’s clever management allowed Bray start efficiently in the spring and they had enough in the tank even taking into account a poor stint midway through the year.
At the 17th attempt Athlone finally eked out an away success when stunning Liam Buckley’s St Pat’s, but Town have taken 13 of their 21 points from the 15 Lissywollen fixtures. Getting that record to 16 points from 16 games is the brief and considering what is at stake it is an attainable target. Athlone need to take care of business and trust that Damien Richardson’s Drogheda can disturb the Student sat the UCD Bowl.
Athlone released a statement during the week thanking supporters for their contribution: “Athlone Town FC would like to express our sincere thanks and appreciation to all our supporters who have supported us throughout what’s been a very difficult season at times - our first in premier football for 18 years. After having such a poor start to the season it would have been easy to stop coming to games but the continued belief you have shown in turning up week after week which was yet again shown with the huge numbers that showed unbelievable support in Richmond Park Friday night really shows that we are a Premier club and have a foundation that can and will take this club onto greater things. It is through this support that the club can develop both on and off the field through the squad, our facilities, our underage academy along with numerous other areas that are part of the club.
“We ask you to once again be the 12th man and turn out in huge numbers this Friday to show your appreciation to the players and management for the efforts and dedication to the legendary Blue and Black throughout this season.”