Athlone Town’s Neil Harney made sure that the final Midlands El Grand Classico of the season ended ‘honours even’ as Athlone drew 1-1 with Longford Town on Friday night.
Harney rose highest to powerfully head home Kevin Williamson’s corner in the 75th minute. It was no more than the home side deserved because on the balance of play they were the better side in the second half.
It was definitely a game of two halves. Longford were the better in the first half while Athlone dominated after the break.
Both sides were hit by injury and suspension coming into this game. Athlone were missing the suspended trio of former Longford player Sean Skelly, Niall Scullion and Joe Woods, while Paul Danaher and Stephen Last were out injured. Longford were dealt a blow last weekend when both Gary Shaw and Daniel Purdy broke their ankles at training sessions on Friday and Monday respectively. They joined Jeff Flood, Austin Skelly, Noel Haverty and Willo McDonagh on the injury list, while Keith Gillespie and Robert Bayly were suspended for Tony Cousins’ men.
Despite their absentees Longford played well in the first half and created a number of chances but unfortunately, as has been the case so many times this season, they failed to put away the opportunities that came their way. Athlone punished that in the second half.
Longford had a few half chances before they eventually broke the deadlock in the 21st minute. Michael Lee played a superb ball into Tony Griffiths, who flicked the ball into Colm James’ path and he fired home with a sweet strike.
Four minutes later Longford should have doubled their advantage. Thomas Crawley’s ball over the top caught the Athlone defence by surprise and Karl Bermingham latched onto it. He decided to take a shot with Pat Jennings beaten but Athlone defender Ross Kenny came rushing back to clear the ball literally off the line.
Longford had enough of the ball to create more chances but failed to trouble Jennings. Athlone began to come more into the game but Longford keeper Craig Hyland dealt with everything that came his way. Just before half-time the industrious Crawley played a neat ball across goal but unfortunately for Longford no-one could get onto the end of it.
Crawley had the first chance of the second half but his strike from about 25 yards out was excellently tipped over the bar by Jennings in the 49th minute. In the 57th minute Craig Walsh’s goal-bound effort was blocked by Kenny.
Athlone made a few changes and those players made a difference as the home side tried to get a hold on proceedings. But Longford had chances to double their advantage; in the 67th minute Tony Griffiths brought a save out of Jennings. From the resulting corner Griffiths heads the ball down to Jamie Duffy but his effort is cleared away.
Longford were to rue not putting away those chances because Athlone got a foothold on the game and started to grow in confidence. In the 70th minute Harney should’ve levelled matters but he blasted his effort wide when it was easier to score. He was to make amends for that miss five minutes later when he met a corner from the left and beat Hyland with a powerful header.
Athlone substitute Ian Sweeney had a chance in the 84th minute but his effort is saved by Hyland. The home side were buoyed up by the goal and went in search of a winner. They very nearly got that one minute into additional time; Jordan Conroy dragged his shot wide but he was flagged for offside.
Right at the end Longford nearly snatched a dramatic winner. The ball was played around the box, Des Hope had a chance but it was blocked, it came out to Walsh but Jennings saved his effort.
Athlone Town: Pat Jennings; Damien Rushe, Neil Harney, Brian McCarthy, Ross Kenny; Eric Molloy (Brian Gill 61), Shane Dunne (Ian Sweeney 71), Barry O’Mahony, Kevin Williamson; Noel McGee, Mark McGoldrick (Jordan Conroy 87).
Subs not used: Gareth Higgins, Lee Cheol Sung, Val Feeney, Ronan Morris.
Bookings: McCarthy (28), Dunne (65).
Longford Town: Craig Hyland; Mark Salmon, Chris Deans, Des Hope, Michael Lee; Colm James, Karl Bermingham (Jamie Duffy 62), Craig Walsh, Alan Kirby; Thomas Crawley, Tony Griffiths (Niall O’Reilly 84).
Subs not used: Paul Hunt, Darragh Reynor, Gary Cronin, Aaron Brilly, Aidan Collins.
Referee: Sean Grant (Wexford).
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Thomas Crawley (Longford Town).