It was ‘meat and two veg’ at Lissywoollen last night as Athlone Town and Shelbourne snapped and bit their way to a scoreless draw that will disappoint the visitors more than the hosts.
There was little in the way of entertaining football as both sides served up an evening that owed more to sweat than inspiration, Shelbourne edging the first half courtesy of a rotating midfield that was more willing to roll its sleeves up.
David Cassidy, Eric Foley and Colin O'Brien constantly switched positions around Paul Shiels, their central midfield axis. Although they created few chances for their front two, Foley did manage to clatter the crossbar with a free kick after 15 minutes and a Cassidy free shortly before half-time found Mark Leech who volleyed narrowly wide.
For their part Athlone had the combative Austin Skelly to aim at, putting in a gladiatorial performance up front that seemed lacking in the home side’s midfield. With Robbie Benson and Kevin Dunne quiet in the centre and wide men Kevin Williamson and Richie O'Hanlon often muscled off the ball it was left to Skelly to fight for scraps, often with his back to goal.
It wasn’t until ten minutes into the second half that Shelbourne put together the first bit of genuinely impressive passing play, Foley, Cassidy and O'Brien combining in a move that ultimately came to nothing but did at least offer some relief for the crowd. And as the half progressed, Athlone's tendency to play long hopeful balls gave more and more possession to their opponents.
The pressure began to mount on the home defence, and a goal began to seem like a possibility. Finally Athlone began to play and as Williamson and O'Hanlon became more competitive on the Athlone flanks. A game that had been a relatively dull affair became a good deal more open at both ends.
Benson and Skelly combined on 70 minutes but Shelbourne cleared, then Skelly put Williamson through with a clever back heel but the winger’s driven cross did not find a willing forehead. With 15 minutes remaining Dermot Keely sent on Gorman and Forsyth for the ineffective Mark Leech and Marc Hughes, adding immediate spice to Shels forward play. Two minutes later O'Brien sent Cassidy scurrying down Shelbourne's right flank and his cross was bundled wide by Philip Gorman.
At the other end substitute Noel McGee dug out a cross from the byline which O'Hanlon headed wide at the far post. Time was running out but a goal seemed inevitable, at one end or the other. With five minutes left O'Brien burst down the right, his raking cross returned to him by a frantic Athlone boot, but with Shels men streaming into the danger area his second attempt skidded through without finding any of them.
With three minutes of added time a breakthrough still seemed possible but when Colin O'Brien made a two footed challenge and received a straight red card the game was up. The final minutes ticked by in an atmosphere of recrimination and the crowd of 586 went home without seeing a goal.
Athlone Town: Bennion; Nolan, O'Shea, Hope McCarthy; O'Hanlon (O'Halloran 81'), Dunne, Benson, Williamson; Farrell (McGee 75'), Skelly (Place 85')
Unused Subs: Schlingermann, Scullion
Shelbourne: Delaney; Scully, Quigley, Ryan, Whelan; C. O'Brien, Shiels, Foley, Cassidy; Hughes (Gorman 75'), Leech (Forsyth 75')
Unused Subs: Williams, Coburn, Corcoran
Simon O'Gorman began reporting for Extratime in 2010. He remembers Milltown and Flower Lodge and, back in the mists of time, saw Diego Maradona play at Lansdowne Road. He now lives in Co Kildare and reports on Shamrock Rovers among others. Simon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org