Terry Butler will be delighted with the start his Athlone team have made to the season as they sit joint top of the First Division table on six points ahead of Friday’s fixture at home to Shelbourne (kick-off 7.45pm).
It is only March and nobody around the midlands will be getting carried away with the two league wins from two (plus the 1-0 victory over double winners Dundalk in the Leinster Senior Cup) but those the early season stats are encouraging.
Last year’s First Division league table wasn’t pretty reading for Athlone as they ended the season on just seven points from twenty seven league games (with three of those points earned thanks to Wexford FC playing an ineligible player). Two games into the 2019 season and they already have six points on the board already and a goal difference of +3.
Their first home game of the season brought plenty of goals as they defeated Wexford 4-2, with last weekend’s first away outing a much tighter affair when they defeated Cobh 1-0.
Prior to their league campaign kicking off they also managed to record the result of the opening round in the Leinster Senior Cup putting Dundalk out of the competition in Oriel Park. Although Athlone were knocked out of the EA Sports Cup during the week, losing 2-1 at home to Galway United.
Friday’s game against this year’s First Division favourites will be an extremely tough test but one Butler and his side will no doubt relish.
It has been a mixed start to the season for the Tolka Park outfit with the opening day escape from Galway with a 3-2 win having trailed 2-0 was followed up with a home defeat to Cabinteely last Friday.
They did beat Bluebell on Monday night to advance to the next round of the Leinster Senior Cup but Shels manager Ian Morris will be eager to get settled into their league campaign and start to build momentum with results as soon as possible.
Although Shelbourne will travel to Athlone as heavy favourites for Friday night’s fixture, Morris is under no illusions that his side will have to be at their very best to secure a result.
“We’re going there to get a positive result, and we know we have no excuses,” Morris told the club website during the week.
“Training has been good. We had the training group doing well and the group that played on Monday got good preparation for Athlone. They have a lot of pace, and clever players who can hurt you. They will have their shape and be organised, it will be up to us to stop them playing and create chances.
“It was very pleasing see the crowd at the last two games, and we’ll ask the fans to get behind the team and we will get out there and show them a good performance.”
Referee: Sean Grant
These sides met each other five times last season in all competitions. The league meetings saw two wins for Shels and an end of season 2-2 draw. Shelbourne also got the better of Athlone in the fourth round of the Leinster Senior Cup and the FAI Cup First Round.
Shelbourne put fourteen goals past Athlone in just three league meetings last season.
Dean Williams, on loan from Shamrock Rovers, has scored in both of Athlone’s matches this season. He is one goal behind Ciaran Kilduff in the early top scorer stakes. The Shels striker has scored three goalsa cross the Reds’ two opening league games.
Athlone Town 9/2; Draw 11/4; Shelbourne 1/2
Athlone Town 1-3 Shelbourne
Injured: Not Available
Doubtful: Not Available
Suspended: Not Available
Injured: Shane Farrell
Doubtful: Alex O’Hanlon, Greg Moorhouse