Mark Salmon scored a second half winner as Longford Town beat their local rivals Athlone Town to go top of the First Division at Flancare Park on Friday night.
As is often the way with local derbys the early stages of this game were scrappy and uninspiring. This despite the attacking shape of Tony Cousins’ team who lined out in 4-4-3 with Dan Purdy and Karl Bermingham flanking Gary Shaw up front.
Athlone played in a more conservative formation with Noel McGee their lone presence in attack and were, perhaps predictably, slower to start than their hosts, though there wasn’t much in it in terms of a tangible threat on either goal.
Thomas Crawley headed over the Athlone bar from an Alan Kirby corner after six minutes and Brian McCarthy cut out a dangerous ball aimed at Longford striker Gary Shaw one minute later. But the first genuine chance didn’t come until the 17th minute when Shaw played Purdy through on the left but his effort was scooped right and wide of Pat Jenning’s goal.
Two minutes later and the home side spurned another opportunity when Kirby’s corner from the right was flicked on to Noel Haverty at the back post. But the defender’s poked effort was cleared off the line by Jason Hughes.
There followed a twenty minute lull in which little happened bar a spate of bookings that emanated more from a sense of duty on the part of the players than any real sense of malice.
But just six minutes from half time the deadlock was broken when Dan Purdy received a diagonal ball out on the left and drilled a low shot across Jennings and into the far bottom corner of the net.
That score-line might have presented a fairly accurate picture of the opening half but Longford’s defence let Athlone through for their first attempt on goal one minute into added time and Noel McGee punished them with a stretching header from six yards that just eluded the flailing Craig Hyland.
Sadly the hectic approach to half time didn’t carry through to the second period and twelve minutes passed without incident. The peace was broken when Mark Salmon played a wonderful ball through for Shaw, but he chose to drive an effort straight at Jennings from the byline rather than pull the ball back into the danger area.
One minute later Longford got it right, Salmon getting onto the ball just inside the Athlone box and turning his man beautifully before rolling his shot home from eight yards out.
A raft of substitutions followed and neither side managed to form a coherent agenda, Longford struggling to press home their advantage and Athlone failing to mount a serious comeback.
An Alan Kirby corner might have been taken advantage of at Athlone’s far post on 67 minutes but Crawley and Haverty somewhat impeded each other’s efforts to get a forehead on the ball. At the other end, A dropping free kick was clattered towards the Longford goal by McGee only to find the midriff of full back Colm James.
With the seconds ticking away the visitors launched a spirited rescue attempt. McGee picked up a flick on only to be hauled down by James. He took the free himself and was only denied an equaliser by Hyland’s superb leap to claw the ball away from the top right hand corner.
In the end it was a fair result that saw Longford go top of the Division while Athlone will feel they left their best moments until last and too late to have any complaints at the score-line.
Longford Town: Craig Hyland; Colm James, Chris Deans, Noel Haverty, Thomas Crawley; Daniel Purdy (Michael Lee, 84), Mark Salmon, Keith Gillespie, Alan Kirby; Karl Bermingham, Gary Shaw (Jamie Duffy, 63).
Subs not used: Paul Hunt, Gary Cronin, Graham Dowling, James O’Brien, Sean Skelly.
Bookings: Deans (30), Salmon (31), James (91).
Athlone Town: Pat Jennings; Joe Woods, Tommy Barrett, Brian McCarthy, Ross Kenny; Garvan Broughall (Sean Guerins, 59), Mark Walsh, Jason Hughes, Brian Gill (Darren Coleman, 64), Kevin Williamson (Paul Danaher, 72); Noel McGee.
Subs not used: Gareth Higgins, Niall Scullion, Ian Dempsey, Mark Sherlock.
Bookings: Barrett (31), Gill (33), Danaher (83).
Referee: Alan Sherlock.
Attendance: 500 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Mark Salmon.