Athlone Town opened their season with an unexpected but thoroughly deserved win against much fancied Waterford FC at Lisseywoolen on Friday night, thanks to late strike from Colm Coss.
This game nearly didn’t happen after the lighting at Athlone’s home ground failed twice during the pre-game warm ups, but a disastrous cancellation was avoided and the kick-off finally took place thirty-five minutes after the appointed time.
As expected it was Waterford who started the brighter. Their passing was sharper, their movement was smarter and they spent most of the first 20 minutes in possession of the ball. But there was precious little to show for it in terms of chances created.
Kenny Browne shot wide of the Athlone goal in the aftermath of a free kick on six minutes and five minutes later a 40 yard pass from Browne put Mark O’Sullivan through on goal only for Igor Labuts, the home side’s Latvian ‘keeper, to win the race to the ball and smother the danger.
Garry Comerford and Tom Smith looked impressive in centre midfield for the Blues but as the half progressed Waterford lost their dominant edge. They started to give the ball away far too often and right-back Jake Evans almost gifted Athlone an opener just after the half hour.
A long high ball from David Brookes dropped behind Evans and his loose touch let Jose Viegas in. But from just eight yards out and with only Ian McLoughlin to beat, the winger’s effort was well saved.
By this stage Athlone had worked their way into a game that had seemed beyond them. Jason Molloy was working well on both flanks and his cross from the right almost found Jason Lyons in front of goal on 21 minutes. Six minutes later Molloy wriggled into the area before presenting Colm Coss with a chance that was fired straight at McLoughlin.
Waterford’s first chance of the second half came from a corner that wasn’t cleared, the ball pinging around the danger area until Labuts threw himself on the ball just as Sander Puri threatened to poke it into the net.
If that opportunity was a tad messy then it characterised Waterford’s overall performance. They continued to have most of the possession but they lacked the incisiveness necessary to breach the stubborn Athlone defence.
The killer, from Waterford’s point of view, was their inability to release the potential of their lone striker, Mark O’Sullivan, who finally found some space from a Comerford corner on 53 minutes but flicked his header well wide of the target. O’Sullivan did put the ball in the net after Evans’ shot deflected into his path on 64 minutes but the assistant’s flag ruled it out.
One minute later at the other end Val Feeney volleyed inches over the bar and for the remainder of the game it was Athlone who looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Jose Viegas shot wildly over the bar after excellent build-up play on 69 minutes and Colm Coss hesitated when in a superb position seven minutes later.
The Romanian import, Dragog Sfrijan shot narrowly wide after 78 minutes having seized on a loose ball just inside the Waterford box, while Feeney and Coss combined to set Lyons free with ten minutes remaining, but the excellent Patrick McClean pushed the striker wide to end the danger.
With just two minutes left Athlone looked to have secured a deserved point against the pre-season favourites for the title. But Blues full-back Evans made one mistake too many, getting caught in possession by Brookes just outside his area. The Athlone defender slid the ball sideways to Coss who then thumped his shot inside the left hand post to win all three points and give the home support a welcome cause for celebration.
Athlone Town: Igor Labuts; Niall Scullion (Frederico Hernandez 55), Kirils Grigorovs, Cormac Raftery, David Brookes, Jason Molloy, Dragog Sfrijan, Val Feeney, Colm Coss, Jose Viegas; Jason Lyons.
Subs Not Used: Conor Gleeson, Conor Barry, Aaron Brilly, Andy Nevin, Sean McGrane, Ryan Gaffey.
Booked: Grigorovs (52), Viegas (63), Brookes (71).
Waterford United: Ian McLoughlin; Jake Evans, Kenny Browne, Patrick McClean, Shane O’Connor (David McDaid 83); Kenny McEvoy, Tom Smith, Garry Comerford, Dean O’Halloran (Derek Daly 63); Sander Puri; Mark O’Sullivan.
Subs Not Used: Matt Connor, Robin Dempsey, David Mulcahy, Dean Walsh, Anthony McAlavey.
Booked: Smith (40).
Referee: David Keeler.
Extratime Man of the Match: Jason Molloy (Athlone Town).