Fiachra Gallagher reports from United Park
The First Division title race took another turn tonight at United Park, where hosts Drogheda United fell to a shock 2-0 defeat at home to Athlone Town.
Two second half goals – a Ryan Manning penalty and a Taner Dogan wonderstrike – ensured that Athlone travelled back to the Midlands with all three points, all the while wreaking havoc for a stunned Drogheda outfit gunning for silverware.
Dogan’s goal, which came in the 85th minute, was a thing of beauty: the American, with the ball propped up before him on the half-way line, spotted David Odumosu out of position and let fly.
The ball floated the length of the pitch and nestled in the Drogheda net, prompting raucous celebrations from the travelling team.
The first half played out in stark opposition to the dramatics of the second period. The opening 45 offered little in ways of clear-cut chances, but both goalkeepers were tested nonetheless.
Chris Lyons was the first to fire a shot on target, after Conor Kane found him in space outside the Athlone area after eight minutes. Aaron Myles produced the best save of the first half to deny Lyons, deflecting the shot wide after getting a strong hand to the ball.
Jake Hyland was prominent for the league leaders, popping up in various locations around the pitch and spraying ambitious passes to the wide areas. James Brown and Kane must be commended for their hunger to push down the flanks, although their numerous crosses never resulted in more than a scuffed shot on goal.
Arguably the best chance of the first half fell for full-back Brown, who found himself the furthest forward in a claret and blue shirt following a long ball forward. He did well to control the lofted pass in the Athlone area, but under pressure, could not direct his shot.
Dean George and Adam Lennon got shots off for the visitors – who were by no means passive going forward – but they did little to trouble the hosts.
The second half was palpably more volatile: the pitch opened up and Drogheda started brightly. Mark Doyle should have put the Drogs ahead on 48 minutes, but instead skied a shot over from six yards out. Brown was again popping up offensive positions – the best attempt he could muster came on 51 minutes, but his effort disappeared over the bar. It was unclear if it was a cross or a shot.
The breakthrough came on the 70 minute mark, when Dogan was taken down in the area and referee Marc Lynch blew for a spot kick.
The penalty was forged by Mark Birrane: the young Mayo-man declared a mazy assault on the Drogheda area, beating several defenders before chopping the ball into the danger area. Ryan Manning was able to dispatch of the penalty to make it 1-0.
The wind in their sails, Athlone pushed on. It doesn’t suit Drogheda to go behind, by all accounts: they slowly began to lose sight of the game, with blunt offensive moves killing any chance of a rescued point – let alone a win.
The game was sealed by Dogan’s half-way line strike.
It goes without saying that tonight’s result has huge repercussions in the context of the title race. Their slight advantage at the summit wiped out, the Drogs have slipped to second place, following Bray’s 3-1 win at the UCD Bowl tonight. It’s anyone’s game.
Drogheda United: David Odumosu; Jack Tuite, Conor Kane, Hugh Douglas, James Brown; Chris Lyons, Mark Hughes, James Clarke (Brandon Bermingham 46); Luke Heeney (Richie O'Farrell 65), Mark Doyle.
Subs not used: Ross Treacy, Killian Phillips, Ryan O'Shea, Stephen Meaney, Adam Wixted.
Booked: Mark Doyle (55), Hugh Douglas (90).
Sent off: None.
Athlone Town: Aaron Myles; Taner Dogan (Isreal Kimazo 89), Dean George (Shane Nealon 75), Ronan Manning; Mark Birrane, Ciaran Grogan, Adam Lennon (Bradley Okaidja 89), Tumelo Tlou; John Morgan, Jack Reynolds (Evan White 86).
Subs not used: Jordan Carroll, Paddy Martyn, Evan O'Connor.
Booked: Ciaran Grogan (43) ,Taner Dogan (44) ,Shane Nealon (82)
Sent off: None.
Referee: Marc Lynch.
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: James Brown (Drogheda United).