Cahal Mc Auley reports from Tolka Park
Athlone Town secured a massive point away to newly crowned First Division champions Shelbourne in a 1-1 draw at Tolka Park on Friday evening.
A deft header from Stephen Meaney equalised proceedings and was enough to keep Athlone’s playoff hopes alive after Brian McManus had opened the scoring for the home side.
The Reds started the game on the front foot, almost breaking the deadlock on three occasions in the early stages.
Brian McManus had a shot from just outside the box saved by Micheal Schlingermann in the opening couple of minutes. This chance was followed up minutes later by Yoyo Mahdy who pulled his shot wide of the post after being played through by Yassine En-Neyah.
Mahdy was denied a goal once again after ten minutes as a delicate shot looked destined to roll into the far corner, but Schlingermann got down to his left-hand side to produce a fine fingertip save.
Aly Gilchrist came even closer from the resulting corner directing a shot towards goal, but an Athlone player was on hand to block his shot and deflect it over the bar.
The visitors seemed to have weathered the early storm and began to get more possession, but Shels continued to turn the screw and look threatening from corner balls.
Gilchrist rose highest once again but his glancing header drifted just wide, but Athlone’s luck finally ran out after 24 minutes as Brian McManus managed to get free of his man and coolly direct a half volley home.
Athlone’s promotion hopes were now hanging by a thread, but they steadied themselves and got an equaliser ten minutes before the break through Stephen Meaney.
Glen McAuley floated a dangerous ball into the box from the right wing and Meaney leaped to direct a precise header past Brendan Clarke from the visitors’ first half chance of the evening.
The equaliser spurred the Reds back into action as they raced forward in an attempt to immediately retake the lead, but Schlingermann ensured that he and his defence wouldn’t be beaten again with a string of important saves.
Georgie Poynton unleashed an effort from the edge of the box which stung the palms of the ‘keeper while Shane Farrell’s follow up attempt was blocked away.
Farrell almost got on the scoresheet moments later, getting on the end of a well-placed backheel from Mahdy, but Schlingermann made himself big and sent his side in level at the break after a half full of big stops.
The tempo of the game dropped dramatically after the interval with both sides looking fatigued from the outset.
Derek Daly flashed a long-range effort over the bar from distance for Athlone but neither side could create anything of significance as the game petered towards a draw.
Shels understandably lacked sharpness after securing the league title last week, but the Reds looked far from champions as they and Athlone struggled to put together any sequence of passing.
Athlone mounted a late charge as a McAuley free-kick and a Meaney shot came close to winning them all three points, but the Westmeath side will be content with a point which allows them to fight another day in the playoff race.
Athlone face another difficult test away at playoff rivals Treaty United next week while Shelbourne will continue their victory tour with a trip to Cobh Ramblers.
Shelbourne: Brendan Clarke; Kevin O'Connor, Maxim Kouogun, Ally Gilchrist, Michael Barker; George Poynton (Alex Nolan 84), Brian McManus, Shane Farrell (Gavin Molloy 76); Yoyo Mahdy (Ryan Brennan 76), Yassine En-Neyah (Michael O'Connor 84), Stanley Anaebonan (Dayle Rooney 63).
Subs not used: Jack Brady, Luke Byrne, Eric Molloy, Denzil Fernandes.
Booked: Michael Barker (88).
Athlone Town: Mícheál Schlingermann; Dylan Hand, Aidan Friel, Scott Delaney (Brandon McCann 8), Killian Cantwell; Tunmise Sobowale, James Doona (Lee Duffy 77), Derek Daly (David Brookes 84); Stephen Meaney, Glen McAuley, Kurtis Byrne (Daniel McKenna 84).
Subs not used: Tommy Holland, Ray O'Sullivan, Oisin Duffy, Katlego Mashigo, Jack Reynolds.
Booked: Aidan Friel (65) .
Referee: Oliver Moran
Extratime.com Player of the match: Micheal Schlingermann (Athlone Town)