CHAMPIONS Limerick FC recorded their first win in three in the SSE Airtricity League First Division with a workmanlike 1-0 victory over basement side Athlone Town at the Markets Field on Tuesday night.
Limerick FC, who had failed to win at home in the league just once prior to kick-off had to wait until the 76th minute to make the breakthrough against plucky, if limited, opponents.
The Blues winner had a stroke of good fortune about it. Defender Shaun Kelly’s cross from the right was headed goalwards by substitute Paul O’Conor. While Athlone keeper Dylan Ownes looked to be about to make a comfortable save,he somehow allowed the ball slip from his grasp and into the net.
Athlone sat a whopping 52 points behind champions Limerick FC in the First Division table prior to kick-off.
This was a timely win for a much-changed Limerick coming 72 hours after their disappointing first league defeat of the season to Cobh Ramblers at St Colman’s Park on Saturday night.
Tuesday night’s game was Limerick’s final outing before the Blues are presented with the First Division league trophy following Saturday night’s final home league game of the season against Drogheda Utd at the Markets Field, 5.30pm.
Limerick FC made no fewer than seven changes from Saturday in Cobh for Tuesday night’s game. Tommy Holland, Shaun Kelly, Garbhan Coughlan, Ross Mann, Paudie O’Connor, Colm Murphy and Sean McSweeney all come into the side in place of Freddy Hall, Paul O'Conor, Robbie Williams, Shane Duggan (suspended), Stephen Kenny, Sean Russell and Chris Mulhall.
Limerick had scored 10 goals and conceded none in their three previous meetings with Athlone Town in the First Division this season.
Athlone had lost 17 of their 25 fixtures in the First Division this season.
Limerick created the first decent opening on 14 minutes, but Garbhan Coughhlan fired just wide of the left hand upright after being set up superbly by Aaron Greeene.
Four minutes later, Paudie O’Connor came close to breaking the deadlock, but he flicked the ball wide from Lee-J Lynch’s corner.
On the half hour mark Colm Murphy forced a smashing finger tip save from Athlone ‘keeper Owens as the home side continued to press for the opening goal.
Thirty eight minutes had elapsed on the clock when visitors Athlone threatened for the first time, but Gaffey's free-kick from close to the corner flag evaded everyone and flashed just wide.
The game remained scoreless at half-time. Limerick introduced frontmen John O’Flynn and Chris Mulhall on the hour mark as the home side fought to find the game’s opening goal.
Despite being outplayed for much of the game, visitors Athlone went very close to breaking the deadlock but Blues keeper Holland produced a fine save to tip David Brookes' strike over the crossbar.
Limerick FC finally broke the deadlock 14 minutes from time with O’Conor’s decisive goal.
It took a fine save from Limerick ‘keeper Tommy Holland to prevent Athlone from drawing level in the 86th minute when he got down smartly to deny Ryan Gaffey from a free-kick just outsde the penalty area.
LIMERICK FC: Tommy Holland, Shaun Kelly, Lee-J Lynch, Aaron Greene, Shane Tracy (Capt), Tony Whitehead, Garbhan Coughlan, Ross Mann (John O’Flynn 60), Paudie O’Connor, Colm Murphy (Paul O’Conor 70), Sean McSweeney (Chris Mulhall 60).
ATHLONE TOWN: Dylan Owens, Danny Molloy, David Brookes, Joe Moloney, Roy King, Chris Reid (Ioris Oyeniyi 65), Claudio Silva, Ian Fletcher (Capt), Jason Lyons, Cormac Rafferty, Ryan Gaffey (Conor Barry 87).
REFEREE: Andrew Mullally