In the end it wasn’t pretty but that doesn’t matter to First Division leaders Longford Town as they finished off the first series of games with a win against their Midlands rivals Athlone Town on Saturday night.
Games between these two sides are affectionately known as the Midlands El Clasico but recent meetings have failed to produce classics; Saturday nights can be added to that.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes it looked like it would end up being a snore draw but Longford showed why they are leading the way in the First Division when out of nothing they scored two goals in two minutes.
Noel Haverty opened the scoring in the 84th minute and two minutes later their dangerman David O’Sullivan grabbed his 8th goal in seven games. Athlone pulled a goal back in the 90th minute through Ian Sweeney but Longford held on for a somewhat deserved win.
Longford were the better side in the opening exchanges but failed to really test Athlone keeper Paul Skinner with chances falling to O’Sullivan (twice) and David O’Neill. Athlone had a couple of half-chances that came to nothing.
As half-time approached both sides had opportunities to break the deadlock; Gary Shaw brought an excellent save out of Skinner in the 43rd minute while Longford netminder Chris Bennion had to save from Ryan Coombes and Garbhan Coughlan.
Athlone started the second-half brightly but couldn’t muster up any chances. The first shot on goal came from Longford’s Etanda Nkololo in the 57th minute but the winger dragged his effort just wide of the far post.
Bennion made a routine save from Sweeney in the 60th minute before Skinner pulled off another brilliant save to once again deny Shaw and keep his goal intact. Longford started to dominate proceedings and after forcing another corner Keith Quinn’s delivery was headed straight at Skinner by Willo McDonagh.
The finishing throughout the game left a lot to be desired and as the clocked ticked down it was evident that Athlone would be happy to thwart Longford and come away from City Calling Stadium with a point but Longford continued to press in the hope of breaking the deadlock; that came six minutes from time.
A corner from Quinn was finished to the net from close range by Longford defender Noel Haverty, though it appeared to get a slight deflection off an Athlone player. Two minutes later and Longford doubled their advantage; Daniel Purdy with a perfect pass to the talismatic O’Sullivan who rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home.
Out of nothing Athlone pulled a goal back through Sweeney in the 90th minute but Longford held on for the win and in doing so restored their four point lead at the top of the table.
Longford Town: Chris Bennion; Noel Haverty, Willo McDonagh, Brian McCarthy, Willie Tyrell; Keith Quinn, David O’Neill (Gavin Doyle 58), Mark Salmon, Etanda Nkololo (Daniel Purdy 72); David O’Sullivan, Gary Shaw (Josh O’Hanlon 65).
Subs: Paul Hunt, Chris Deans, Michael Isichei, Aaron Brilly.
Athlone Town: Paul Skinner; Niall Scullion, Conor McMahon, Robbie Clarke, Barry Clancy; Ian Sweeney, Garvan Broughall (Niall Lanigan 51), Mark Hughes, Ryan Coombes; Philip Gorman (Noel McGee 82), Garbhan Coughlan.
Subs: Craig Sexton, Neil Harney, Jonathan Kielty, Lee Dixon, Toyeeb Mustapha.
Booked: Mark Hughes 10.
Referee: Adriano Reale (Kildare)
Attendance: 550 est
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Mark Salmon (Longford Town)