At the fourteenth attempt, Athlone Town finally succeeded in recording their first win of the 2014 season tonight when goals from Kealan Dillon and Seán Brennan gave them a 2-0 win over UCD at Lissywoollen.
A cagey first half only sprung to life when Samir Belhout struck the crossbar for the Students with two minutes to go before the break, but the home side took over after the restart and made the breakthrough in the 51st minute through a Dillon tap in.
Brennan took advantage of defensive confusion to add a second ten minutes later and while UCD pushed hard late on, they never came close to scoring.
UCD came into this tie on the back of a run of four games unbeaten, a stark contrast to the dismal fortunes of the home side this season, but the Town still started brightly and looked to get in behind the UCD back four as early and as often as possible.
Stephen Quigley was lively from the right back spot and he picked out Graham Rusk with a long diagonal delivery after just five minutes and the home crowd held their breath as it looked as if Rusk’s centre would fall to Jason Marks at the far post, but Athlone native and UCD captain Robbie Benson made a vital interception to touch the ball out for a corner.
UCD had a half-chance of their own moments later when Robbie Creevy pulled a shot wide after a very sloppy pass out of defence by Derek Prendergast, but from then on the tie settled into a cagey affair, with both sides playing just one man up front.
The game exploded into life shortly before half time however when UCD came desperately close to scoring twice in the space of sixty seconds, firstly when Samir Belhout touched the ball onto the Athlone crossbar from six yards out, and secondly when Tom O’Halloran sent a piledriver across the box and forced Paul Skinner into making a fine diving save.
Having escaped that series of play, the home side came out of the dressing room with renewed vigour and they got their reward for their efforts in the 51st minute when Mark Hughes took control of a fast break out of defence and held off his direct opponent before lobbing the ball over Conor O’Donnell from the edge of the square.
Hughes’ lob fell back off the crossbar and Athlone midfielder Kealan Dillon was the first to arrive on the scene and tap home a simple goal, his second of the season.
Athlone’s second was a similar close range strike that came ten minutes later, this time provided by right winger Seán Brennan.
Alan Byrne directed a header towards goal from a Dillon corner kick but initially it looked as if O’Donnell fielded the dropping ball with ease. However he ran into the back of Hugh Douglas as he came to ground and spilled possession, allowing Brennan to sneak in and make a vital touch on the ball in between three UCD players.
Athlone continue to play with the frenzy of a team that could sense that a badly craved victory was on the cards and they could easily have had another when Dillon slipped in Jason Marks with just the keeper to beat, albeit under pressure from Douglas. Marks pulled his shot wide, but at this stage it looked as if Athlone were set to add more goals.
However as the game progressed some nervousness crept into their play and they started to fall back, allowing UCD onto them.
The Students peppered Paul Skinner’s goal with shots from range, coming closest when Barry McCabe forced a fine parry with a stunning twenty five yard piledriver, but they never succeeded in getting inside the Athlone back four and consequently the home side were able to hold on and record a crucial victory.
Athlone Town: Paul Skinner; Stephen Quigley Neil Harney 82), Derek Prendergast, Alan Byrne, Barry Clancy; Sean Byrne; Sean Brennan (Philip Gorman 87), Kealon Dillon, Mark Hughes, Jason Marks (Ian Sweeney 76); Graham Rusk.
Subs not used: Declan Brennan, Michael Monaghan, Ian Fletcher, Craig Sexton (GK)
UCD: Conor O’Donnell; Gareth Matthews, Hugh Douglas, James Kavanagh, Mark Langtry; Chris Mulhall, Robbie Creevy, Robbie Benson, Tom O’Halloran (Dwayne Wilson 69); Gary Burke (Barry McCabe 73); Samir Belhout.
Subs not used: Tomás Boyle, Michael Scott, Ian Ryan, Gregory Sloggett, Ger Bannon (GK).
Referee: Ray Matthews