Patrick O Connor reports from the Carlisle Grounds
Athlone Town consolidated their position at the top of the First Division on Friday night when they overcame Bray Wanderers 2-1 in the Carlisle Grounds - a win they just about deserved given their performance over the 90 minutes.
The Midlanders got off to a flying start and attacked the Seagulls on all fronts but they were rocked back onto their heels after seven minutes when they fell behind against the run of play.
The home side had hardly got out of their own half during the opening exchanges, but in their first attack right winger Stephen Kinsella made good progress down the wing.
His low cross into the box made it all the way across to the opposite wing where left back Dylan Barnett took a touch and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top right hand corner giving Michael Schlingermann no chance in the Athlone goal.
It did not take long for the visitors to respond however and they immediately took the game to Bray straight from the kick-off and three minutes later they were on level terms.
Adam Wixted, who troubled Barnett with his speed and footwork all night, went on a searing run on the right wing. When he drove the ball across the box, the experienced Kurtis Byrne was perfectly positioned to tuck the ball into the bottom right-hand corner for the equaliser.
Byrne has played with 13 different clubs throughout his career, Athlone being his 14th, and he showed all his experience throughout this game, and more than justified Adrian Carberry’s decision to hand him the captain’s armband for the season.
He was on hand again in the 14th minute when he struck for a second time, this time he was at the end of another one of Athlone’s many free-flowing movements to fire the ball past Brian Maher in the Bray goal.
It was well into the first half before the home side found their rhythm, and Kinsella on the right wing was one of their main sources of penetration, one of his crosses in the 29th minute resulted in Darren Craven’s header just going wide.
Bray did finish the half the stronger of the two teams, mainly through Conor Clifford’s dominance in the middle third. However despite an increase in the number of chances for Bray, the Athlone defence was well organised with Killian Cantwell in particular being the stand out player across their back four.
The game was evenly balance in the opening phases of the second half. James Doona was prominent for the visitors but in general Bray regained control of the match and did everything but equalise in the second half.
Their best chance of drawing level came in the 75th minutes when Luka Lovic blazed over after great work by Ryan Graydon. Manager Glen Cronin must have been dismayed because their attacking play during that period deserved a second goal.
Joe Doyle was thrown into the fray for the last quarter and the couple of half chances he got were snuffed out by Cantwell who was excellent throughout for Athlone.
There was a major scuffle in the centre circle with a few minutes left, and after consulting with his assistants, referee Alan Carey red carded Bray’s Ryan Graydon and gave a yellow to Athlone substitute Shane Barnes.
Bray were unlucky not to equalise during their period of dominance in the second half. However a combination of Athlone’s attacking play in the opening 30 minutes, combined with their doggedness in defence in the last half hour meant that overall they were worthy of the three points.
The win leaves Athlone clear at the top on 10 points while Bray drop from 6th to 7th position still stuck on three points.
Bray Wanderers: Brian Maher; Dylan Barnett, Andrew Quinn, Aaron Barry ©, Conor Clifford, Ryan Graydon, Mark Byrne, Brandon Kavanagh, Darren Craven, Luka Lovic, Stephen Kinsella (Joe Doyle, 72).
Subs not used: Kian Clarke, Gary Shaw, Dean O’Shea, Sean Callan, Charlie Gallagher, Glen Hollywood, Cian Maher, Darragh Lynch.
Sent off: Ryan Graydon (88)
Athlone Town: Michael Schlingermann; Adrian Friel (Oisin Duffy 60), Derek Daly, Dan McKenna, Killian Cantwell, Adam Wixted, Jamie Hollywood (Brandon McGann 85), Kurtis Byrne ©, Stephen Meaney (Shane Barnes 71), James Doona, Dylan Hand.
Subs not used: Kayleum Rice, Scott Delaney, David Brookes, Jonathon Carlin, Jack Watson, Triston Noack Hoffman.
Booked: Shane Barnes (88)
Referee: Alan Carey
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Killian Cantwell (Athlone Town)
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