by Robert O'Reilly
A hat-trick from Declan O’Brien was enough for Drogheda United to see off the spirited challenge of Athlone Town at United Park.
The veteran’s three strikes had the Boynesiders seemingly out of sight with twenty minutes remaining but two late goals from Philip Gorman meant that the home side were nervously hanging on at the final whistle.
United took the lead inside the opening ten minutes. Bright interplay between Gavin Brennan and Shane Grimes on the left flank resulted in the latter delivering an inch perfect cross for Declan O’Brien to put Drogheda in front with a diving header.
It should have been 2-0 on the half hour mark as an incisive breakaway from Gavin Brennan released Declan O’Brien again but rather than shooting, he opted to pass to Gary O’Neill whose goal bound effort was blocked by Sean Byrne.
Athlone began to assert themselves into the game and they squandered an excellent opportunity to level affairs shortly before the interval. Sean Brennan found space in behind the Drogheda defence and he squared for Jason Marks but the winger was unable to hit the target with David Ryan stranded in goal.
The Town created another opening straight from the interval. A long ball out of defence was flicked on by Graham Rusk into the path of Gorman but the striker’s weak attempt at chipping Ryan was easy for the Drogheda goalkeeper.
It was a case of déjà vu though as United regained control of the game and made their dominance count. A deep corner-kick from Eric Foley found Declan O’Brien at the back post and the striker made no mistake as he headed into the bottom corner of the goal on 51 minutes.
The Boynesiders were in cruise control at this stage and they seemingly put the game beyond the reach of the visitors on 70 minutes. A lofted diagonal ball from O’Neill found Declan O’Brien in acres of space and the striker composed himself before firing past Skinner at his near post for his hat trick. This was the Dubliner’s sixth league goal of the season.
To their credit, Mick Cooke’s men refused to throw in the towel and they pulled a goal back on 76 minutes. Sean Brennan’s corner-kick picked out Gorman who headed the ball back across goal to give the Town some hope.
The momentum of the game had swung the way of the visitors and a carbon copy delivery from Sean Brennan found Gorman who beat Ryan to the ball for 3-2 with ten minutes left to play.
Athlone were reduced to ten men in the dying embers of the game as debutant Stephen Quigley was dismissed for a lunge on Gavin Brennan as the Town suffered their fifth consecutive defeat of the season.
This result sees Drogheda leapfrog Shamrock Rovers into second place in the league and they will look to maintain their undefeated start to the season when they face Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds on Monday.
by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United will be looking to follow-up last Friday’s victory over Limerick when they face Athlone Town at United Park, kick-off 7.45pm.
The Boynesiders have made an excellent start to the season with two victories and two draws from the opening four league games leaving them behind only Shamrock Rovers and Cork City in the table.
Michéal Schlingermann and Paul Crowley are the only certain absentees for Drogheda. Both players are a couple of weeks away from a return while Michael Daly and Stephen Maher will be assessed at training on Thursday. Phillip Hughes will return to the squad having served a three-match suspension.
The game marks the return of former manager Mick Cook to Drogheda having departed the Club at the end of last season.
The 2013 First Division champions have had a disastrous start to the campaign with four consecutive defeats leaving the Town at the foot of the table.
The injured quartet of Neil Harney, Aidan Collins, Barry Clancy and Sean Byrne are all doubtful for the visitors while former Drogheda player Stephen Quigley is awaiting international clearance.
Speaking on Thursday, United manager Robbie Horgan stressed the importance of putting past relationships to one side and recording their second win at home this season.“I think preparation was the key to the victory against Limerick. We prepared all week for the match and we went down with the attitude of winning the game. It was our best performance of the season so far, particularly away from home and keeping a clean sheet. We held on to an extent at the end but the result was a great confidence booster for the lads.
“We have prepared for the visit of Athlone in the same way we did for Limerick. I’m looking at this game as an opportunity for another three points. I will say though, that a wounded animal is a dangerous animal. Athlone will pick up points at some stage this season so we have to make sure that we are ready for the challenge. With Mick and a lot of former players and staff coming back, we have to put that to one side and concentrate on picking up the victory.
“If I can rotate the squad with the next three games in the space of a week, that would be fantastic. The decision on who will play Monday against Sligo will only be taken after Friday’s game. We won’t be changing the side too much as we want to remain unbeaten for as long as possible.”
Carl Walshe (Michael Daly 73’)
Eric Foley (Stephen Maher 62’)
Kealan Dillon (Stephen Quigley 73’)
Aidan Collins (Conor McMahon 73’)
Jason Marks (Ian Sweeney 54’)
Declan O’Brien (9’, 51’, 70’)
Phillip Gorman (76’, 80’)
Sean Brennan (46’)
Stephen Quigley red card (88’)