Airtricity Premier Division
Dundalk 2 Athlone Town 0
Dundalk showed no signs of a European hangover as first half goals from Pat Hoban and Brian Gartland saw them ease their way past Athlone Town at Oriel Park last night to return to the summit of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
For the second week in-a-row the Louth men were looking to respond to a Cork City victory, with the Leesiders’ 2-1 win over UCD on Friday night knocking them off the top of the table.
Just as with their win over Shamrock Rovers last week though, Stephen Kenny’s side showed no ill-effects from their European endeavours to keep their title challenge firmly on track.
This was a potential banana skin for the Lilywhites, coming in between their Europa League fixture with Hajduk Split. Having lost the first leg 2-0 on Thursday, Dundalk could have been forgiven for having one eye on next week’s return fixture in Croatia.
While they looked leggy at times, the home side never really had to get out of second gear to see off an Athlone side who have taken just one point away from home all season.
Keith Long’s side did have their chances to rattle their hosts in a second half that was the footballing equivalent of watching paint dry but ultimately they lacked a cutting edge.
Dundalk had started the brighter of the two sides, with a Kurtis Byrne cut-back having to be headed off the line by Declan Brennan as early as the sixth minute.
Goalkeeper Ryan Coulter was then called into action of 14 minutes when he brilliantly touched a Kurtis Byrne volley around the post.
Dundalk then squandered another fine opening on 20 minutes when Dane Massey broke to the endline before pulling the ball back to Richie Towell, who blazed over from 12 yards.
The breakthrough finally arrived two minutes later though. Hoban released Byrne and his low drive was brilliantly saved low down by Coulter. The goalkeeper could only parry the ball clear, however, with Hoban on hand to apply the finish for his 10th league goal of the season.
The home side then doubled their advantage in the 31st minute when centre-half Gartland rose to meet a Towell free-kick to head to the net.
The visitors threatened for the first time on 36 minutes when John Mulroy flashed an effort inches wide of the post.
Dundalk thought they had added a third four minutes before the break when Darren Meenan’s free-kick was headed to the net by Gartland, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Byrne did go close moments after that when he pulled a shot agonisingly wide after being released by Sean Gannon, but the chances largely dried up for a sluggish Dundalk in the second half.
Indeed, it was Athlone who had the better opportunities, with Mulroy going close twice in quick succession either side of a great opening for James O’Brien, who raced onto a quick Mark Hughes free kick to lob the advancing Peter Cherrie only to see his effort creep just over. Dundalk managed to comfortably see the game out after that.
DUNDALK: Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Meenan (McDermott 73), Shields, Towell, Horgan (Griffin 87); Byrne (Higgins 78); Hoban.
ATHLONE TOWN: Coulter; Quigley (Mulroney 80), Harney, D Brennan, Doyle; S Brennan (Ebbe 71), Dillon, Hughes, Clancy; O’Brien; Mulroy (Sweeney 71).
Referee: D Tomney (Dublin).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved