Paul Corcoran reports from Eamonn Deacy Park
Galway United moved to the top of the First Division table with a 3-0 win over Athlone Town on Friday night, the Tribesmen are now two points ahead of Cork City.
Goals from Alex Murphy, David Hurley and Ronan Manning gave the home side a comprehensive victory, and a record seventh win in a row for Galway United and a fourth clean sheet to boot for John Caulfield’s men.
The win sets up a huge game at Eamonn Deacy Park next Friday night as the Tribesmen host title rivals Cork City.
John Caulfield named an unchanged side from their 4-0 win over Wexford last week, while Dermot Lennon made two changes to his Athlone side from their loss to Longford Town last week with Quincy Nkansah and Derek Daly replaced by Donal Curtin and Success Edogun.
Aaron Connolly created the first chance of the game in the opening five minutes when he stripped the ball off Conor McCormack before flicking the ball to the left to Gary Armstrong who fired off a shot inside the box but it was straight at Conor Kearns who made the easy save.
The Tribesmen went on target with 15 minutes gone when Stephen Walsh won a free-kick from distance. Gary Boylan struck the set piece and it took a deflection on its way into the box but Mark Smith was able to react quickly to deny the home side.
Boylan tested Smith again five minutes later from long distance with the goalkeeper initially only able to bat the ball away - he recovered quickly to remove the danger for the visitors, however.
The ball flicked just wide of the post in the 38th minute when Success Edogun took on a long-range effort. Diego Portilla had gotten his boot in to make a challenge, but the ball took a wild deflection and ended up beyond the head of Kearns luckily just avoiding the target in the end.
Max Hemmings caused trouble just before halftime with a great ball into the box, Ed McCarthy nodded it down and into the path of Killian Brouder but the centre back was off balance as he struck his shot, sending it inches wide of the post.
Galway Untied went close shortly after the restart when Boylan played a great through ball to Wilson Waweru, the striker raced toward goal and rocketed a shot off on goal, Smith got his fingertips to the ball to push the ball onto the woodwork with a great save.
The Tribesmen finally took the lead in the 54th minute from a free-kick won by Waweru on the left flank. David Hurley drilled a dangerous cross into the box and Alex Murphy absolutely attacked the ball with his head to put the home side in front much to the relief of the home fans.
Stephen Walsh nodded the ball over the bar from a Conor McCormack corner-kick ten minutes later at the back post, his effort was inches over the bar.
Waweru went close for a second time in the 68th minute, this time it was a corner-kick from Hurley on the right that caused the trouble. The ball was flicked on to the back post where Waweru was waiting to get a head on it, but Smith bravely dove across goal to keep the ball out of the net.
With 15 minutes to go Smith was called into action once again, Waweru flicked a great header on in the middle of Athlone’s half to Walsh and the forward rattled a shot on goal, but Athlone’s shot stopper denied the forward.
United doubled that lead with ten minutes to go when Walsh was brought down in the box, a clear-cut penalty with referee Gavin Colfer pointing to the spot immediately. Hurley, as the designated penalty taker, stepped up to take it and he smashed the ball into the left side of the net for his fifth goal of the season.
Second half substitute Ronan Manning put the icing on the cake for Galway in the 90th minute, McCormack flicked the ball to the edge of the box from the left flank as the clock ticked down and the former Athlone Town player took aim and placed the ball into the bottom left corner.
Galway United: Conor Kearns; Max Hemmings, Killian Brouder, Alex Murphy (Charlie Lyons 90), Diego Portilla; David Hurley (Conor O'Keeffe 90), Gary Boylan (Ronan Manning 74), Edward McCarthy (Manu Dimas 85), Conor McCormack; Stephen Walsh, Wilson Waweru (Francely Lomboto 85).
Subs not used: Matthew Connor, Ben Molloy, Evan O'Connor, Jordan Adeyemo.
Athlone Town: Mark Smith; Aaron McBride (Cian Kelly 25), Success Edogun (Quincy Nkansah 87), Donal Curtin, Noah van Geenan; Carlton Ubaezuonu, Oisin Duffy (Osaze Irhue 87), Aaron Connolly; Thomas Oluwa, Shane Barnes (Matthew McCarrick 70), Gary Armstrong (Youri Habing 70).
Subs not used: Andrew Skerritt, Blake Ryan, Sultan Adenekan.
Booked: Shane Barnes (58) Oisin Duffy (60).
Referee: Gavin Colfer.
Attendance: 1,500 (estimate)
extratime.com Player of the Match: David Hurley (Galway United)