Shelbourne secured a 3-1 win on a chilly summer’s night at Tolka Park. The match had its share of controversy but a fine display by the hosts meant they took all three points and kept their sights firmly on the promotion race back to the Premier Division.
It was the home side that got off to a flying start after only four minutes of play. Shelbourne were awarded a free kick some 25 yards out and Gareth Coughlan stood up to the dead ball effort. His effort was low and was missed by all in the box. However, it landed at the feet of Sean Heaney. The defender, from six yards out, struck the ball into the back of the net. Athlone’s Philip Gorman was unlucky not to clear the ball off the line and will no doubt be rueing in not reaching the ball.
Shels were setting the pace in the first quarter to half an hour of the game and were closing down Athlone at every attempt when the visitors were on the ball. It wasn’t until the 20th minute that Athlone had their first real effort of the game. Daniel Purdy struck a free kick some 30 to 35 yards out. It was a fine effort, which was hit with some force. However, Shels keeper Greg Murray was on hand to collect the ball and keep his team ahead.
It was all Shels from thereon in. A long ball was picked up sweetly by Philip Hughes, who then dipped it over the head of Athlone defender Aidan Collins. The striker then connected with the ball for an effort on goal. His shot though, went across the box and wide of the goal. The Athlone fans let out a collective exhale as they witnessed their side stay in the game.
Heaney was close to doubling his side’s lead, and his own tally at that, close to end of the first half. Coughlan whipped in an lovely effort into the box. Defender, Heaney was the first to meet the ball but his effort just crept over the crossbar and out for a goal kick. The final bit of play of the half was left to veteran striker Hughes and Shels new boy James English. Hughes managed to weave his way to the edge of the box and saw his younger teammate creeping up behind him. He played the ball off to English but the young man’s effort to return the favour was poor and was cleared away by the Athlone defence.
When the sides returned to the pitch, it was Athlone Town that looked the livelier side. Stephen Dunne had an good effort from just outside the area. He struck the ball well but it took a slight deflection and was collected easily by Murray.
In the end, Athlone Town’s attacking efforts paid off. The visitors worked their way into the box and made some lovely passes within the box. the ball landed to Aidan Friel just inside the edge of the box. His pass picked out Jamie O’Donnell, who from seven or eight yards out powered the ball into the back of the net.
Shels hit back though and were close to retaking the lead when Daire Doyle met the ball with the back of his head. The effort looped high but sailed over the bar and didn’t trouble Paddy Dunican.
The next few minutes were turbulent to say the least. Shelbourne kept pushing at and attacking the Athlone defence. It was if they were adamant to get that vital goal. The clock was creeping up to the 65th minute when Coughlan, on the half way line, chipped a lovely ball ahead of Hughes. It was a battle between Hughes and Town captain, Brian Shorthall, to win the ball. The striker did enough to bully the defender off the ball and from inside the box fired an effort that hit the back of the net. Shels were in the lead again.
The match had only restarted when, Athlone goalscorer, O’Donnell went in high on a tackle with Jake Donnelly. The referee didn’t need to hear the roar of the crowd to make up his mind on this one. It was a straight red for the striker.
Shelbourne used their advantage of having an extra man on the field. They constantly attacked when on the ball and used the long ball effectively. Their only offence was leaving their visitors with too much space to creep through and collect incoming passes.
Athlone to their credit were close to getting an equaliser towards the end of the proceedings. Purdy whipped in a free kick and Gorman, with plenty of space, lept into the air and tried to head the ball down towards the goal but his effort sailed over the crossbar and had Shels manager, Kevin Doherty, furious that his defence left so much space free for an effort to be made.
With the game in injury time, Shelbourne killed it off. Dylan McGlade collected a lovely high pass. The winger nutmeged the oncoming defender and worked his way around him. Collecting the ball at the right hand side, McGlade fired the ball high, over the keeper and into the back of net. The effort had those in the stands in amazement. His manager showed his delight with a punch of his fist into the cool Tolka breeze.
The final whistle was met with loud cheers from the home support as Shelbourne’s notched up their third league win in succession. This results now leaves them in third place in the league, three points ahead of UCD. However, the students have two games in hand. Shels will travel to the Regional Sports Centre next weekend to take on Waterford United.
This loss leaves Athlone Town with only one victory in their last five league games. They now sit in fifth place, six points behind the aforementioned UCD. They will have their hands full next week as they host league leaders, Wexford Youths.
SHELBOURNE: Murray, O’Connor, Osam, Robinson, Heaney, Doyle (C), Coughlan, Donnelly (Walsh 74′), Hughes, English (Walshe 79′), McGlade (Kehoe 91)
Substitutes: Ryan, Andrews, Gannon, Robinson
Goals: Heaney (4′), Hughes (64′), McGlade (90′)
Yellow Cards: Doyle (17′)
ATHLONE TOWN: Dunican, Friel, Doyle, Shortall (C) (Mulroney 71′), Collins, Dunne, Boyne, Purdy, Gorman, O’Neill (Gaul 67′), O’Donnell
Substitutes: Gleeson, O’Connor, Kelly, Hewitt, Molloy
Goals: O’Donnell (56′)
Yellow Cards: Friel (32′)
Red Cards: O’Donnell (66′)
Referee: John McLaughlin