Date: 8 p.m. June 24, 2011
Venue: Tolka Park
The game began in pelting rain and the slippery surface contributed to a scrappy opening. Shels had an early shout for a penalty as a Chris Mulhall cross from the right came off the arm of Jamie Carr but referee Darren Coombes judged the incident to have occurred inches outside the Athlone box. David Cassidy slipped while taking the resulting free and the ball travelled no more than five yards before being belted clear.
Athlone had Jason Hughes as a willing runner down the right and with Kevin Williamson patrolling down the left the majority of their forward play was concentrated on the flanks. Shelbourne also had lively wingers in the shape of Conan Byrne and Mulhall but it was Kevin Dawson in the middle who was pulling most of their strings.
In the ninth minute it was Dawson who unleashed a pile driver from 25 yards that Schlingermann touched onto his right hand post. It was a close call for the visitors and a sign of how the first half would play out.
Three minutes later Philly Hughes retrieved a hopeful ball to the corner flag and chipped in a cross that David McGill might have finished were he an inch or two taller. But on 18 minutes Shels had the lead they deserved, breaking quickly from an Athlone corner and finding Mulhall haring down the right. His cross-field ball to Byrne looked over hit but the winger controlled it superbly on his chest and dinked it past Schlingermann for Dawson to tap in from six yards.
This signalled a period of utter dominance from the home side and yet clear chances were rare. Byrne turned and shot narrowly wide on 21 minutes and then headed straight at Schlingermann form ten yards, having met a David McGill cross. But there was little else to show for all their possession and the teams went into the break separated by just the single goal.
Two minutes after the restart Shelbourne should have had a second as Byrne ran onto Cassidy’s through ball but fluffed a pull back from the by-line, much to the frustration of his in-rushing team mates. Jamie Carr cleared with gratitude as the ball was rolled directly into his path.
But this was a different Athlone side form the one that we saw in the opening half. Mark Sherlock had replaced Kevin Dunne at the break and with two men to aim at up front Mike Kerley’s men began to look dangerous.
Jason Hughes drifted a cross into the Shelbourne box on 48 minutes that Sherlock and Paul Danaher might between them have ushered over the line but somehow a Shelbourne limb deflected the ball for a corner. Noel McGee met that at the back post and Delany had to be quick to gather at the striker’s feet.
Soon after, a Williamson free from the right whizzed across the Shelbourne box without finding a taker and suddenly it occurred to those in red that this game was a good deal more alive than they might have liked.
But on 65 minutes all of Athlone’s promising work was undone. A loose Shelbourne pass inside their box was watched by three frozen defenders which allowed Mulhall to steal a ball that he no right to claim. Schlingermann took matters in hand but he was too late and caught the midfielder who crashed to the ground. Referee Coombes pointed to the spot and Philly Hughes stepped up to bury the penalty.
Athlone refused to fold and battled on in an attempt to rescue something from the game but, despite considerable uncertainty and continuing difficulty in finding an effective final ball, Shels still created the better chances.
Conan Byrne forced Schlingermann to save smartly from his angled shot on the right, as did substitute Karl Bermingham with his shot from the left. And Byrne came close again with a shot from the edge of the box that slipped wide of Schlingermann’s right hand post.
In the end the home side did enough to maintain their two goal lead and take three points that they ultimately deserved. And, with Cork City losing to Waterford United, it was a result that pushed them into a seven point lead at the top of the Division.
Unused Subs: Paul Skinner, Colm James, Sean Byrne, John Sullivan.
Bookings: I Ryan (62).
Athlone Town: Michael Schlingermann; Declan Fallon, Paul Danaher, Tommy Barrett (Stephen Relihan, 67), Jamie Carr (Ian Sweeney, 84); Jason Hughes, Wayne Colbert, Kevin Dunne (Mark Sherlock, 46), Dave Ryan, Kevin Williamson; Noel McGee.
Unused Subs: Ronan Stack, Bobby Tier, Darren Young, Brian Collopy.
Referee: Darren Coombes.
extratime Man of the Match: Kevin Dawson.