Athlone Town picked up their first point of this year’s SSE Airtricity League season in Keith Long’s first game at the helm, but they will feel that they could have done so much better than a 0-0 draw against Bray Wanderers.
Sean Brennan and Derek Prendergast both had goals ruled out for offside in the first half for Athlone, while they had another golden opportunity late on when Robbie Moloney pulled down Jason Marks in the area.
But Marks’ low penalty was saved by Stephen McGuinness to keep the sides level and Bray held on despite the fact that they were reduced to ten men due to the sending off of Moloney for his transgression.
Both sides had plenty of chances in an open first half that was played at a high tempo.
Athlone’s midfield quartet of Seán Brennan, James O’Brien, Kealan Dillon and Marks all looked lively and they got forward in support of Graham Rusk very well, while at the other end, Ismahil Akinade led the line excellently while good play down both flanks helped create good chances.
Brennan put the ball in the Bray net when his free from the left wing in the sixth minute bounced on the six yard line and appeared to creep into the far corner unaided amidst a herd of bodies, but the roars of the home crowd were quelled by the sight of the linesman’s flag.
Prendergast looked offside when he slid in to guide James O’Brien’s mishit shot into the net but the decision to chalk off a second home goal didn’t sit well with the Athlone supporters that made up the majority of the 392 in attendance.
Bray had their chances, coming closest to scoring five minutes before half time when Graham Kelly’s twenty-five yard free kick took a slight deflection and crashed into the foot of the post with Paul Skinner wrong footed.
Skinner also did well to deny Dave Scully from close range midway through the half, although the Bray midfielder really should have done better than striking straight at the custodian’s feet from eight yards out.
Goalmouth incidents were rarer after the interval but it looked as if Athlone might steal a victory when Moloney was sent off for pulling down Rusk in the penalty area with seven minutes remaining.
James O’Brien’s well weighted pass found the Athlone attacker who had got behind the defence and while contact with Moloney looked to be minimal, once Kevin O’Regan took the decision to award the penalty he had little choice but to send the full back off for a professional foul.
However, keeper McGuinness came to the rescue of his defender with a fine low save and Bray comfortably held on throughout the closing stages, despite their numerical disadvantage and could even have nicked a victory when Declan Brennan fell at the wrong time and allowed Shane Byrne to advance on goals just thirty seconds after coming on the field.
Byrne failed to get his shot away, however, as Seán Byrne produced a vital tackle to at least salvage a first point of the season for the reigning First Division champions.
ATHLONE TOWN: Paul Skinner; Conor McMahon, Derek Prendergast, Declan Brennan (Mark Hughes 86), Barry Clancy; Alan Byrne; Jason Marks (Sean Byrne 71), Kealon Dillon, James O’Brien, Seán Brennan (Ian Sweeney 88); Graham Rusk.
Subs not used: Stephen Quigley, Michael Monaghan, Craig Sexton (GK).
BRAY WANDERERS: Stephen McGuinness; Niall Cooney, Dave Webster, Adam Mitchell, Robbie Maloney; Dean Zambra; Dave Scully, Dave Cassidy, Graham Kelly (Shane Byrne 85), Shane O’Neill (Adam Hanlon 71); Ismahil Akinade.
Subs not used: Shane Redmond (GK), Gary Curran, Jamie McGlynn, Danny O’Connor, Ciarán Byrne.
Referee: Kevin O’Regan.