Brendan Graham reports from Tolka Park
Shelbourne and Athlone Town played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at Tolka Park this evening in a game that could yet dent Shelbourne’s promotion hopes.
The talk of the terraces in advance of kick-off was the abundance of officials that took up their positions as the referee prepared to get things started.
Six in all, with two additional officials, one behind each goal, on hand to help out in case of any major talking points during the game.
The reason for six, we were told, is preparation for the full team ahead of the upcoming Nations Cup internationals which will commence at the end of next week.
Athlone Town started the game much the brighter side with the home side taking quite a while to settle into the game.
The bright start for Athlone resulted in early chances at goal for Ian Fletcher and Ollie Hamzat.
Both players were reduced, however, to shots from distance with neither doing too much to worry Dean Delany in the Shelbourne goal.
Although it took Shels a while to settle themselves into the game and start to create chances, they never at any stage looked troubled or in danger of conceding early on.
As has been a common trait with this Shelbourne team this season, they didn’t panic and continued to work hard knowing the chances would eventually start to come their way.
Come they did and to who else but their top scorer this season Dave O’Sullivan who had a great chance to put Shels in front at the back post from a James English cross.
English spotted the striker deep at the back post and lifted a cross over the Athlone defence but Darcy Lawless in the Athlone goal was quickest to react, scooping the ball out for a corner.
The pressure and high intensity from Shels paid off when they were awarded a penalty just after the half hour mark.
It was a harsh enough decision by Rob Harvey to award the penalty against Kyle Hogan for a push on Adam Evans.
Dave O’Sullivan wasn’t complaining, however, and he slotted the ball home for his 15th goal of the season and, crucially, to give Shels the lead.
They had their second of the night just nine minutes later with a classy bit of skill and calm finish by English.
The striker took the dropping ball down with a sublime touch before side-stepping past Jamie Broderick and slotting the ball calmly past Lawless to give Owen Heary's side a two-goal cushion at the break.
The first real chance of the second half came the way of Athlone Town when they got a goal back ten minutes into the second half with a speculative effort from midfielder Fletcher.
Fletcher took the ball down on the edge of the box from a deep Ciaran Byrnes cross. He took a touch inside and hit his effort towards the back post.
The low shot caught Delany cold and dribbled across the line and into the net to give Athlone a glimmer of hope.
That glimmer of hope led to an equaliser just eight minutes later, an Ollie Hamzat screamer from just inside the box sending the Athlone Town contingent wild.
Hamzat was first on the end of a cross from the left, took a quick touch and unleashed an unstoppable shot past Delany and into the top corner.
It was against the run of play but credit to Athlone, who kept their heads up and worked their way back into the game and were clinical with the very few chances they got.
Heading into the final ten minutes, O’Sullivan had a great chance to give Shels the lead once more, rounding the keeper and toe poking a shot towards the empty goal.
He didn’t put enough power behind it and Grogan raced back to boot the ball out over the stands to ease the pressure on the Athlone back four for a brief spell.
The home side tried their very best down both flanks to muster up a few late chances with English very lively and urging his team mates forward to see what they could come up with.
O’Sullivan had another huge chance to put his name in lights as the game entered the second of four additional minutes.
The ball fell right to the feet of Shels' top scorer in a scrambled box but it was too quick for him to get his foot around it and flashed past him in seconds.
Athlone had their backs to the wall in the final minutes of the game but managed to hold out for their standout result of the season, and their first time to score two goals in an away game this season.
For Shels, it's a setback in a game they would have targeted three points from and will have to refocus now for their final two league games against Cabinteely and Galway United.
Shelbourne: Dean Delaney; John Ross Wilson, Aidan Collins, Derek Prendergast, Lorcan Fitzgerald; Adam Evans (Greg Moorhouse 76), Mark Hughes, Karl Moore, Paddy Kavanagh (Shane Farrell 64); James English, David O’Sullivan
Subs not used: Lee Steacy (gk), Reece McEnteer, James O’Brien, Gavin Boyne, Dayle Rooney.
Athlone Town: Darcy Lawless; Kyle Hogan, Paddy Kelly, Aaron Brilly, Ciaran Grogan,Victor Ekanem (Nika Kalandarishvilli 40); Rory McCullough (George Mukete 70), Jamie Broderick; Ian Fletcher, Ciaran Byrnes, Ollie Hamzat (Rob O’Leary 83)
Subs not used: Michael Fogarty (gk), Steven Grogan, Craig Carty, Shane Stokes
Attendance: 631 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: James English (Shelbourne).