Diarmuid Daly reports from Turner’s Cross
Athlone Town hit the top of the First Division table tonight after a hard-fought win away to Cork City at Turner’s Cross.
The hosts were seeking to bounce back from a blunt display in their defeat away to Cabinteely last week, while their guests had a 3-1 win at home to a fancied Galway United side to build on.
Athlone manager Adrian Carberry named an unchanged side; however City boss Colin Healy made two changes in personnel from last week.
Finnish under-21 international Jonas Hakkinen made his debut and Jack Walsh made a first competitive start up front. Jack Baxter and Cian Murphy dropped to the bench.
Athlone started brightly and should have opened the scoring after three minutes. A diagonal ball from left to right caught the home defence napping, and Stephen Meany was able to hook back across goal for Adam Wixted.
His effort was too close to veteran goalkeeper Mark McNulty, who clawed it away. No Athlone player was close enough to turn the ball home and City scrambled clear.
The home side then asserted themselves and had the majority of the play for the remainder of the first half. Cian Bargary’s long throws were a useful weapon, and McGlade should have done better when one such missile was flicked on by Walsh.
The former Longford Town winger mishit his right-footed effort and Micheál Schlingermann in the Athlone goal watched it loop over his bar.
McGlade’s ability to carry the ball forward was a boon for a City side who too often eschewed forward passes in favour of taking the safe option.
Aidan Friel needed more assistance from his team-mates than he was getting, and he went in Mark Moynihan’s book for a cynical trip on McGlade on the quarter-hour.
Of note, Moynihan’s fussiness was a feature of the match. Both sides had reason to be frustrated on several occasions by early whistles when advantage looked to be forthcoming.
Clear chances were at a premium; Bargary shot straight at Schlingermann after cutting in from the left, while at the other end Dylan Hand looped a header over McNulty’s crossbar from Dan McKenna’s long free-kick. The best chance of the half for either side came just before the half-hour. Alec Byrne and McGlade made good progress through the middle before Walsh was released in the right-hand channel.
His low effort was slightly scuffed, however, and a scampering Schlingermann was relieved to see the ball slide wide of the far post.
Shortly afterwards, McGlade wriggled through the middle and warmed the Kiltimagh man’s palms, but the home side were kept quiet for the rest of the half.
It was the midlanders who went close next, when good work from Meany and the impressive James Doona on the left allowed Kurtis Byrne a sight of goal from twenty yards. His sliced effort didn’t worry McNulty and the half ended scoreless.
City were quicker out of the traps after half-time, and Cian Coleman recovered from a heavy touch while breaking forward to release Bargary down the left. The Tipperary youngster burned Derek Daly on the outside but couldn’t keep his effort away from Schlingermann.
From here, the second half followed much the same pattern as the first, with Athlone content to challenge the Leesiders to break them down. The task proved beyond the home side, despite Walsh offering a bustling focal point up front.
City’s excessive caution was exemplified when an attacking Bargary throw-in by the right-hand corner flag ended up with Ronan Hurley struggling to hold onto the ball in the left-back position just four passes later.
Half-chances continued to be the order of the day; a poor Hurley clearance was worked to Doona, whose goal-bound effort cannoned wide off the unfortunate Kurtis Byrne. Walsh then showed his strength at the other end by barrelling through four challenges in the Athlone area.
He couldn’t get a shot away but fed Morrissey, whose effort was blocked. Walsh pounced on the ricochet but again Schlingermann was in the right place.
Wixted then almost found Byrne with a floated cross from the right that wrong-footed the City defence, the former Hibernian man inches too short at full stretch. However Athlone weren’t to be denied minutes later.
Hakkinen dallied too long on what should have been a routine clearance, allowing Wixted to nick the ball before the Finn could put his foot through it. Doona ran onto the loose ball and his left-footed shot, although central, wrong-footed McNulty from twenty yards.
City never looked like scoring in the remaining thirteen minutes. Substitutes Cian Murphy and Beineoin O’Brien Whitmarsh offered enthusiasm but little guile, and the starters appeared to run out of steam and ideas.
Walsh headed a difficult effort over the bar from a McGlade corner, but the visitors should have put the game to bed in injury time when Derek Daly and Wixted broke. The latter was clean through but appeared to stumble while shooting and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.
Moynihan’s whistle sounded shortly afterwards. Athlone top the table while for the second week in succession, City lose to a sucker punch despite dominating the ball.
Healy will need to address failings at both ends before what’s already looking like a crucial game at home to Shelbourne next weekend.
Athlone’s last visit to the Cross, a 7-0 cup defeat in August 2017, feels like a lifetime ago. The midlanders will be confident ahead of a trip to the seaside next Friday to face Bray Wanderers.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; George Heaven, Jonas Hakkinen, Ronan Hurley; Cian Coleman, Alec Byrne (Beineon O'Brien Whitmarsh 81), Steven Beattie, Cian Bargary, Dylan McGlade (Cian Murphy 77), Gearóid Morrissey; Jack Walsh.
Subs not used: Paul Hunt, Dale Holland, Cory Galvin, Darragh Crowley, Jack Baxter, Gordon Walker, Jamie Wynne.
Booked: Mark McNulty (30).
Athlone Town: Mícheál Schlingermann; Aidan Friel, Derek Daly, Killian Cantwell, Daniel McKenna; Dylan Hand, James Doona, Jamie Hollywood, Adam Wixted; Kurtis Byrne, Stephen Meaney (Shane Barnes 71).
Subs not used: Oisin Duffy, Scott Delaney, Jonny Carlin, David Brookes, Tristan Noack Hofmann, Kayleum Rice, Tumelo Tlou, Jack Watson.
Booked: Jamie Hollywood (15) ,Dylan Hand (39) Aidan Friel (15).
Referee: Mark Moynihan
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: James Doona (Athlone Town).