It’s almost become customary for UCD to make a slow start to the campaign, gather some momentum as the weeks progress and find the results which sees them keep their heads above water come September. A change of manager has not reversed their early-season fortunes and while they’re traditionally slow starters, the points need to start coming if the Students are to avoid being cut off at the foot of the table.
Just like their opponents on Friday, Aaron Callaghan’s side are pointless but will look upon the visit of newly-promoted Athlone as the ideal opportunity to get on the board. They’ll be buoyed by Monday’s Leinster Senior Cup defeat of Shelbourne, albeit on penalties, but will need to make pronounced improvements to the performances that saw them brushed aside by Bohemians twice on the opening weekend.
They so-nearly defied the odds last time out at Richmond Park but ultimately left the home of the champions with nothing to show for their efforts. If the Students can maintain that level of performance then they’ll find themselves well clear of the danger zone before long but the conundrum for Callaghan is trying to extract the best out of his players on a consistent basis.
“I have been asking the players to take ownership of their own performances and keep challenging each other in training by improving standards on and off the field,” Callaghan said.
The former Bohemians and Athlone boss faces an anxious wait over the fitness of two of his senior players. Both Mark Langtry and midfielder Robbie Creevy are doubts and they’ll be given every opportunity to recover in time for the 7.45pm kick-off.
UCD have enjoyed the better of the fixtures between the sides in recent years having won three out of their last four meetings but having lost the last seven SEE Airtricity League home games, they’ll be taking nothing for granted.
If Athlone weren’t already aware of the strains of the Premier Division, then their opening two fixtures have been somewhat of a baptism of fire for Mick Cooke’s charges. An opening game defeat to Sligo was followed by a harsh lesson dished out by Shamrock Rovers but after a difficult start to life back in the top flight, a visit to Belfield affords them an opportunity to get up and running.
A strong off-season recruitment drive saw Cooke bring plenty of experienced and talented campaigners to the Midlands but a disappointing outing in their first home game of the season may have mitigated spirits. They’ll be determined, however, to bounce back on Friday and kick-start the campaign with three points in the capital.
They make the trip east with a squad containing several injury concerns. Aidan Collins dislocated his shoulder in the defeat to Rovers and has been ruled out while there is uncertainty surrounding the fitness of Conor McMahon, Neil Harney and James O’Brien.
Referee: Sean Grant
UCD have been losing at both half time and full time in their last three home matches in the SEE Airtricity League.
The last time the two sides met was a pre-season friendly in January 2013, when UCD won 3-2.
In the last four meetings, UCD have scored ten goals while Athlone have received two red cards.
UCD 5/4; Draw 11/5; Athlone 21/10.
UCD 2-3 Athlone
Doubtful: Robbie Creevy and Mark Langtry
Injured: Aidan Collins (shoulder)
Doubtful: Conor McMahon (hamstring), Neil Harney (quad) and James O’Brien (back)