793 supporters turned out for Athlone Town’s first home Premier Division tie in eighteen years tonight, but their meeting with Shamrock Rovers ended in a crushing defeat as the visitors cruised to a 4-1 victory at the midlands venue.
Rovers dominated the tie from start to finish and could have doubled their tally, but Trevor Croly will have been pleased just to get a first league win of the season under their belt in advance of next Friday night’s Dublin derby against Bohemians.
Due to a problem with the floodlighting there was a delay to the start and it looked for a time as if referee Tomás Connolly was going to abandon the tie, but once the game got underway Shamrock Rovers got right into their rhythm and wasted no time in making good ground down both flanks, going closest to scoring when Ciarán Kilduff failed to get sufficient purchase on a cross from Seán O’Connor.
Kilduff did open the scoring for the away side but it was a goal that was gifted rather than chiselled, as Paul Skinner dropped a corner kick right at his feet, allowing the big striker to tap in an easy goal.
There was plenty to admire about Rovers’ second strike, an accurate and composed finish from Gary McCabe after a slide rule pass from Shane Robinson put him through on goal with just Skinner to beat in the 31st minute.
Whatever hope Athlone supporters may have had of mounting a comeback was extinguished immediately after the restart, when the excellent Simon Madden made good progress down the right wing and played a teasing delivery across the six yard line.
A subtle touch from Derek Prendergast appeared to wrong foot Kilduff at the far post, but the striker reacted brilliantly, hooking the ball to the net with his back to goal.
Athlone manager Mick Cooke emptied the bench in the 66th minute in a bid to turn the game around but his policy backfired when centre back and captain Aidan Collins was forced off with a wrist injury, leaving Athlone down to ten men for the last ten minutes.
Rovers’ substitute Eamon Zayed made them pay in the 89th minute when he slipped the ball underneath Skinner for the fourth goal of the tie on a fast break out of defence, though the Town did get the ball narrowly across the line deep in injury time to cancel out that strike, Alan Byrne getting the last touch on a goalmouth scramble.
ATHLONE TOWN: Skinner; Dillon, Collins, Prendergast, S Byrne (Clancy 66); A Byrne; S Brennan, James O’Brien, Hughes (Sweeney 66), Marks (Rusk 66); Gorman.
Subs not used: Sexton, D Brennan, McMahon.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy; Madden, McGuinness, Kenna, Byrne; Robinson; McCabe (Kelly 77), Brennan, Finn, O’Connor (Sheppard 68); Kilduff (Zayed 77).
Subs not used: Hyland, Heaney, Cornwall, Bayly.
Referee: Tomás Connolly