Padraig Moran begins his reign as Athlone manager with a Midlands derby against a Longford side that are still very much in the hunt, not just for promotion, but for the First Division title.
Padraig’s transition into the hot seat will be aided by the fact that he has been outgoing boss, Mike Kerley’s, assistant for the past year and a half. So he will be well used to a lengthy list of absentees. Despite having 24 players at his first training session, Moran will be without three suspended players and two injury victims.
Sean Skelly and Niall Scullion were both sent off against SD Galway two weeks ago, and so miss out, while Joe Woods serves a one match ban for collecting four yellow cards. On the injury front, Paul Danaher remains out with a cruciate injury while Roy King is also recovering from long term injury. Stephen Last misses out too, with a muscular problem.
Athlone go into this game on a run of six games without a win, a sequence that has seen them fall 15 points behind the promotion pack. Three draws and three defeats tells a grim enough tale, but the fact that Noel McGee’s strike against Finn Harps (1-1) represents the only goal scored in that time hints at where the new manager needs to turn his attention.
The 3-0 defeat to SD Galway that Athlone suffered in Kerley’s last game in charge represented the first time they had ever been beaten by the Galway side since they entered the League in 2010.
But perhaps Athlone fans will take some hope from the fact that the last time their side beat Longford it came after a similarly humiliating defeat. On September 17th 2011 Noel McGee scored twice in the opening 20 minutes to fashion a 2-0 win against Longford, just one week after they had been crushed 7-0 by Cork City.
Longford will have to continue their pursuit of Limerick at the top of the First Division table without the attacking services of Daniel Purdy and Gary Shaw, who both suffered broken ankles during training this week.
Both players have been in rich goal-scoring form recently and they are the only Longford players to have scored in the club’s last seven league outings. The fact that this has amounted to just six goals says something about Longford’s more staccato form of late, and they have not won back to back games since the twin away victories over Finn Harps and Mervue back in June.
Longford’s form over their last six league games is more solid, mid-table stuff than that of a side chasing a league title, with two wins (against SD Galway and Mervue), two draws and two defeats. They have failed to score in half of those games and kept just one clean sheet.
Along with Shaw and Purdy, manager Tony Cousins will be without striker Austin Skelly and defender Noel Haverty, who are both out injured. He will also be missing the services of midfielders Robert Bayly and Keith Gillespie who are sidelined through suspension.
With four points between themselves and leaders Limerick, and just six games to play, Longford need to rediscover their form from the opening half of the season if they are to realistically maintain a challenge for automatic promotion.
Referee: Sean Grant.
Longford have taken seven points from their meetings with Athlone this season with two 2-1 wins and a scoreless draw.
Having scored an each of their opening 12 league fixtures, Longford have found the net in just five of their last ten.
Athlone scored in 13 of their opening 15 league games, but have now scored just once in their last six.
Athlone 7/2; Draw 23/10; Longford 4/5.
One goal might settle this, and I’ll go for home advantage along with the boost of ‘new manager syndrome’ - Athlone to win 1-0.
Athlone Injury News: Paul Danaher, Roy King, Stephen Last.
Athlone Suspension News: Sean Skelly, Niall Scullion, Joe Woods.
Longford Injury News: Daniel Purdy, Gary Shaw, Austin Skelly, Noel Haverty.
Longford Suspension News: Keith Gillespie, Robert Bayly.