Shelbourne put their First Division title challenge back on track after last week’s reverse at home to Limerick, when they regained their seven point lead at the top of the table with a two nil victory away to Athlone Town.
Goals, four minutes from the start and from the end of the game, were enough to put the all-important three points on the board. At this the business end of the season, the Shels faithful and management won’t be too worried about performance and will be relieved to get another match done and dusted in their journey back to the Premier Division.
For the home side, Mike Kerley selected the same team that last week had pulled off a surprise win in the Midlands Derby away to Longford, but was forced to make a late change when defender Mark Walshe picked up an injury in the warm-up, with Kevin Dunne coming into the side. Alan Mathews for the visitors, wielded the knife, with keeper Dean Delany being dropped to the bench. The loss of two defenders, Gareth Matthews and Stephen Paisley, to injury, also forced the Shels boss into a number of positional and formation changes.
The visitors started first from the blocks and created their first goal chance on just three minutes when a Brendan McGill cross from wide right found Karl Bermingham who stumbled over the ball before it fell to Kevin Dawson to send in a low drive just inches wide of the left post. However, a minute later, the Reds did indeed open the scoring with McGill again being the creator on the right wing, with his cross to Conan Byrne on the back post, who made no mistake in netting the ball to put Shels one up.
The match continued more or less in that vein with McGill and Byrne exploiting plenty of space down either flank, creating a number of chances for the visitors. Town keeper Michael Schlingermann was in good form though and he moved smartly off his line and out of his area to break up several Shels attacks and to keep the score at just one nil, going into the half-time break.
Athlone had their first shot in anger just two minutes after the restart, when Noel McGee turned quickly from about 25 yards out and snapped the ball just wide of the right-hand post. Shelbourne continued to dominate the game but some poor finishing let them down, with Bermingham in particular spurning two very good chances.
The game erupted into controversy midway through the second half when Paul Danaher and Kevin Dawson went in on a fifty-fifty challenge. The ball rebounded and struck the Shels man in the face and he went down hurt. The referee adjudged Danaher to have struck-out, and he flashed the red card in a rather harsh decision.
As often happens, the sending-off seemed to lift the home side and they upped their game. Substitutes Davy Ryan and Mark Sherlock began to push forward and probe the Reds defence, though in truth goalkeeper Paul Skinner was never really tested.
The visitors finally killed off the game on eighty six minutes when right full Colm James got forward down the right and lofted in a perfect cross to set up Philly Hughes for a looping header into the top left corner.
Athlone Town: Schlingermann, Fallon (Sherlock 79), Carr, Dunne, Danaher, King (Ryan 60), Rushe, Relihan, Williamson, Hughes (Barrett 73), McGee.
Subs not used: Murray, Woods, Gaynor.
Red Card: Danaher
Yellow Cards: Carr, Relihan,Ryan
Shelbourne: Skinner, James, Boyle, Ryan, Fitzgerald, C Byrne (S Byrne 83), Dawson, Cassidy, McGill, Bermingham (Mulhall 75), Hughes (Gorman 88).
Subs not used: Clancy, Sullivan, Da Silva, Delany
Yellow Cards: James, Cassidy.
Referee: James McKell
Extratime Man of the Match: Brendan McGill – worked tirelessly all night and was involved in all of Shels best goal chances.