Athlone Town 1-1 Bray Wanderers

Athlone Town’s dream of a 'great escape' died tonight when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Bray Wanderers at Lissywoollen, a result which confirmed that they will be relegated back to the first division of the Airtricity League in 2015.

It was all going to plan for Athlone in the early stages as Philip Gorman crashed home a penalty to put them in front after 20 minutes, but the wheels started to come off when Alan Byrne was sent off eight minutes before half time.

A stunning strike from Bray’s Dean Zambra from 25 yards ensured a share of the spoils as the Bray midfielder ended the year with a real goal of the season contender.  

Athlone had their chances to snatch a victory against the run of play, most notably right at the death when Graham Rusk was put through with just the keeper to beat, but the substitute scuffed his shot and yet another opportunity slipped by for the midlanders.

Athlone looked like a confident side in the early stages as they settled into a high tempo of play on and off the ball, unsettling the visiting team’s possessions and stretching the play thanks to good work from James O’Brien and Eric Foley at midfield.

A fast break out of defence led to Kevin Knight placing an excellent cross into Ian Sweeney’s path after just six minutes, though Niall Cooney was able to get enough on the ball to smother Sweeney’s effort from just eight yards out.

Bray had an excellent opportunity to break the deadlock after a quarter of an hour when Ismahil Akinade did brilliantly to rise at the far post and put an excellent header on Eric McGill’s deep cross, but as has been the case throughout the second half of the season, Ryan Coulter was equal to the challenge.

Two baffling decisions by centre backs were at the heart of the first half’s other key moments.

Dave Webster’s decision to put a hand on Kevin Knight’s left wing cross after 20 minutes appeared completely at odds with the low level of danger that was present at the time.

However, Philip Gorman didn’t look his gift horse in the mouth and instead crashed the ball to the roof of the net for the opening score.

Athlone’s Alan Byrne also appeared to take leave of his senses eight minutes before half-time when he dived in on Adam Hanlon just inside the corner flag and drew his second yellow card of the game, reducing Athlone to ten men for the remainder.

It wasn’t as if the big defender hadn’t been forewarned either, as only 60 seconds previously he had crashed into Stephen McGuinness in the Bray goal with a late hit and was lucky to escape a similar sanction.

Bray piled on the pressure in the second half and with Athlone’s midfield now depleted in order to allow Aidan Collins to replace Byrne, Wanderers made a string of excellent attacks, finding joy down the right wing in particular. They accumulated 11 corners over the 90 minutes and it was one of those opportunities that resulted in their goal after 58 minutes.

Athlone failed to clear the ball sufficiently after getting the first header onto David Cassidy’s delivery and Zambra pounced to send a wonder strike to the top corner of Coulter’s net from 25 yards out.

Bray continued to dominate play and they could easily have added a winner of their own, but they found Coulter in excellent form on a couple of occasions, while Jake Kelly also missed the target from just five yards out with a flicked header.

Rusk was handed a late chance for the home side when he ran onto a breaking ball with just McGuinness to beat, but his meek effort that dribbled wide of the post was an appropriate metaphor for a season that never got off the ground for Athlone Town.  

Athlone Town: Ryan Coulter; Dylan Hayes, Derek Prendergast, Alan Byrne, Kevin Knight; Ian Sweeney (Aidan Collins 40), Eric Foley, James O’Brien, Derek Doyle; Sean Brennan (Graham Rusk 66); Philip Gorman (Barry Clancy 83).

Subs not used: Thomas Mulroney, Sam O’Connor, Stephen Dunne, Paul Skinner (GK)

Bray Wanderers: Stephen McGuinness; Eric McGill, Dave Webster, Niall Cooney, Michael Barker; Graham Kelly; Jake Kelly, David Cassidy (Philip Hughes 75), Dean Zambra, Adam Hanlon (Ryan Swan 87); Ismahil Akinade.

Subs not used: Shane O’Connor, Robert Maloney, Gareth McDonagh, Gavin Sheridan (GK).   

Referee: Padraigh Sutton.