Athlone Town wrapped up promotion to the Premier Division of the Airtricity League as Philip Gorman’s 26th minute penalty ensured they recorded a first win over Waterford United in 11 years.
Mervue United's win over Longford Town meant that a draw would have been enough for Roddy Collins men, but they created the lion’s share of chances and defended well throughout at Athlone Town Stadium.
The result provided Athlone with an eleventh clean sheet in their last 13 league encounters.
The visitors approached the tie with a 4-5-1 formation, lining out with Ben Ryan as a holding midfielder and Paul Quilty working in isolation as a solitary striker.
In contrast, Athlone played a standard 4-4-2 formation and their attacking pair of Gorman and Enda Curran looked very dangerous from the start.
Curran had two attempts on goal that went narrowly over the crossbar in the early stages, before the home side made their all-important breakthrough from the penalty spot.
Philip Gorman’s flick-on ran through to Enda Curran on the right-hand side of the penalty box and when Paddy Barrett clambered clumsily into the Athlone attacker, the crowd rose in anticipation of the whistle. Initially, Robert Harvey declined to deem Barrett’s challenge a foul, but a raised flag from the linesman was enough to lead to an outstretched arm from the arbiter.
Gorman’s penalty was immaculate, as he struck the ball with power and accuracy low to the bottom left-hand corner.
Waterford played some of their best football at the start of the second half and they could have drawn level when Paddy Barrett curled a free-kick narrowly wide of the near post from 25 five yards out, but Athlone’s defence was largely in control for the remainder of the tie and the home side’s 11th clean sheet in 13 games always looked likely.
The closest Waterford came to scoring was in the 70th minute, when Vinny Sullivan did excellent work down the right wing to beat one defender and send a powerful low cross across the six-yard line. Aidan Collins’ attempted clearance crashed into the back of Conor McMahon, but the ball ricocheted harmlessly into the arms of Craig Sexton.
In the closing stages, Waterford pushed hard but Athlone absorbed the pressure very well and came desperately close to striking on the break for a second goal on several occasions.
Ian Sweeney had a low shot on the turn from just eight yards out that was well saved by Craig Hyland and the Waterford custodian was again called into action when Sweeney took advantage of a defensive error and was left one-on-one with the keeper in the closing minutes.
Hyland saved the first effort and Gavin Kavanagh was on hand to block Philip Gorman from the rebound, but by then the home supporters that made up the vast majority of the 2,057 supporters in the ground were in party mood, as they knew that they weren’t to be denied a historic return to the top flight of the Irish game.
Athlone Town: C Sexton, R Collins, B Clancy, A Collins, C McMahon, J O’Brien, G Kelly, M Hughes, P Gorman, E Curran, R Clarke.
Subs: I Sweeney for Kelly (36 mins), S Byrne for Clarke (53), G Broughall for O’Brien (62).
Waterford United: C Hyland, C Whittle, D Mernagh, G Kavanagh, P Barrett, B Ryan, K O’Connor, P White, P Quilty, V Sullivan, P Drohan.
Subs: C Meade for O’Connor (58 mins), R McLarney for Ryan (64), M Chindea for Quilty (71).
Referee: Robert Harvey