It was third versus first in this top of the table clash in the First Division and it was the visitors who came away with all three points, making it Athlone’s first victory against Shelbourne at Tolka Park since 1980.
The first half was all about Athlone Town. The midlands side dominated their hosts with slicker movement and passing. The home side were poor everywhere on the pitch.
Shels couldn’t string many decent passes together, except for the odd occasion where they were allowed time in front of goal. However, they couldn’t make their efforts count, with Alan O’Sullivan gifted an effort to slot home but was denied by the Athlone shot stopper, Shane Cusack.
The away side punished on the twentieth minute when Garbhan Coughlan was allowed to make his way through the box and slotted the ball past Shels keeper Greg Murray. That goal was the first conceded by the home side in the league so far.
The second followed soon after, when Eric Foley was brought down 25 yards from goal. He lined up his effort perfectly. The midfielder cracked his shot with significant power and the ball nestled into the top right hand corner of the goal.
It was much of the same for the rest of the half with Shels failing to hold on to possession and Athlone attempting to extend their lead. Shelbourne manager Kevin Doherty was visibly upset with his side, even going as far as taking Jake Donnelly off after twenty-five minutes, replacing him with Mark Sandford.
Doherty went on to make two additional substitutions at half time with Gareth Coughlan and Jordan Keegan replacing Colm Crowe and Alan O’Sullivan respectively. His switches helped Shels improve somewhat, but they were still guilty of giving their visitors plenty of space in which to pass, and work their way towards goal.
Shelbourne nearly grabbed a goal back after 58 minutes when Mark Sandford was played in on goal. His effort was just tipped over Cusack. This was to be the best chance the home side had in front of goal.
The game seemed like it was about to fizzle out after that opportunity, with both sides reduced to long-range efforts at goal, including strikes from Philip Gorman for Athlone and Gareth Coughlan for Shelbourne.
However, with only two minutes of normal time to play, Shelbourne substitute Gareth Coughlan scored from a low free-kick that made its way into the bottom right hand corner. The decibels went up a notch or two inside Tolka Park as the home fans appealed to their players to pick up the pace and try and grab a late equaliser.
Another Shels goal was not to be though. However, the visitors were to add to their tally. Ryan Robinson brought down an oppent on the edge of the box, which led to an Athlone free-kick.
Up stepped substitute Daniel Purdy with a cracking effort into the top right hand corner. His first goal for the club. Tolka Park fell silent as the visiting fans celebrated a famous victory.
Shels will now look to bounce back in their next fixture, an away trip next Friday night at the Regional Sports Centre to face Waterford United. Meanwhile, Athlone Town – still undefeated – will be at home for their next game, against Wexford Youths, also next Friday night.
Shelbourne: Murray, O’Connor, Osam, Robinson, Doyle (C), Donnelly (Sandford 25′), Kehoe, Walsh, Hughes, Crowe (Coughlan 45′), O’Sullivan (Keegan 45′)
Unused Substitutes: Ryan, Earley, Rodriguez, Gannon
Goals: Coughlan (88′)
Yellow Cards: Kehoe (12′), Crowe (43′), Walsh (77′), Robinson (91′)
Athlone Town: Cusack, Quigley (C) (Gaul 65′), Hand, Dunne, Collins, Foley, Chindea (Purdy 68′), Boyne, Gorman (Burke 83′), Coughlan, Doyle
Unused Substitutes: Doolin, Brady, O’Connor, Durican
Goals: Coughlan (20′), Foley (23′), Purdy (93′)
Yellow Cards: Gorman (31′), Coughlan (80′), Collins(87′), Foley (89′)
Referee: Simon Roger
Conor McManus, Pundit Arena