It was a case of two points dropped as the First Division league leaders Longford Town played out a dull and disappointing draw against Athlone Town in front of an attendance in the region of 500 at Flancare Park on Saturday night last.
With nearest challengers Limerick losing to Waterford United the previous night, Longford failed to capitalise on that result and the gap at the top of the table is now two points. The home side completely dominated the game but their inability to put away the chances they created cost them what would have been a vital win.
It was a combination of wayward shooting from Longford and some good saves from opposing keeper Pat Jennings that helped Athlone claim the point. In fact the visitors could have grabbed an unlikely goal four minutes from time when substitute Jordan Conroy shot narrowly wide from an acute angle.
Longford’s need for a prolific goalscorer was evident on this occasion. The two strikers that started the game have scored just five between them this season; Gary Shaw (3) and Karl Bermingham (2) while Daniel Purdy, who was brought on, has also scored 2.
Less than one minute had elapsed on the clock when Longford created their first chance of the game. Thomas Crawley with the cross into Karl Bermingham but Athlone defender Joe Woods got a timely touch to put the ball out for a corner.
Three minutes later and the visitors had their first chance through former Longford player Eric Molloy; Barry O’Mahony set up Molloy and his effort was pushed out for a corner by Town keeper Craig Hyland.
In the 8th minute Jennings had to bring off an excellent save to deny Crawley who struck a powerful shot from close range and the resulting corner taken by Alan Kirby was headed over the bar by Town defender Willo McDonagh.
Kirby should have done better in the 23rd minute but he headed over from about six yards out. Six minutes later Kirby’s free-kick was headed over by McDonagh.
After being under pressure for so long Athlone should have opened the scoring in the 35th minute. Jason Hughes played the ball out wide to Noel McGee but his shot was directed off target by the foot of Hyland for a corner.
The second half was four minutes old when Kirby had a chance but his shot went over the bar. Despite enjoying most of the possession Longford didn’t create their next chance until the 59th minute when defender Michael Lee went on a mazy run into the box but his effort was deflected out for a corner.
In the 65th minute a lovely move involving Crawley and Kirby ended up with substitute Jamie Duffy in the box but he really should have done a lot better when in a very good position. Duffy had a chance to make amends for messing up in the 72nd minute but he headed wide from a Kirby free-kick.
As the clock ticked down Longford continued to pile on the pressure in a hope of breaking the deadlock. In the 79th minute a pinpoint cross from Thomas Crawley was met by Colm James but Jennings got a vital touch to keep his net intact.
Two minutes later and James turned provider but substitute Tony Griffiths directed his header wide. Then Kirby had a chance in the 83rd minute but his goalbound effort was blocked down.
Completely against the run of play Athlone could have taken the lead in the 86th minute when Conroy shot just inches wide in what was a lucky let-off for Longford.
In the final minutes Longford continued to press for a winning goal and substitute Daniel Purdy had two chances to snatch the victory. In the 88th minute he shot wide and one minute into additional time he headed off target after connecting with Noel Haverty’s cross.
LONGFORD TOWN: Craig Hyland; Colm James, Noel Haverty, Willo McDonagh, Michael Lee; Alan Kirby, Keith Gillespie, Mark Salmon, Thomas Crawley; Gary Shaw, Karl Bermingham.
Subs:- Jamie Duffy for Bermingham (62 mins); Tony Griffiths for Shaw (71 mins); Daniel Purdy for Lee (76 mins).
ATHLONE TOWN: Pat Jennings; Damien Rushe, Joe Woods, Stephen Last, Kevin Williamson; Eric Molloy, Val Feeney, Barry O’Mahony, Brian Gill, Jason Hughes; Noel McGee.
Subs:- Mark Walsh for Feeney (69 mins); Ross Kenny for Last (72 mins); Jordan Conroy for Molloy (74 mins).
Referee: Alan Mullally.