Athlone Town senior women denied historic success in top of the table Shelbourne contest

Shelbourne Womens 1

Athlone Town AFC 1

A late, late, converted penalty denied Athlone Town ATC what would have been an historic win against Shelbourne in the WNL’s first versus second clash on Saturday.

The visitors opened the scoring at Tolka Park early in the second half with a fantastic Emily Corbet chip from the edge of penalty area and looked on course for a massive three points, only to be foiled at the death by a converted spot kick by Shel’s Noelle Murray three minutes into additional time.

On paper, a 1-1 draw might seem a credible, if not respectable, result for Athlone away to the WNL league leaders and reigning champions, but such is the measure of Tommy Hewitt’s sides progress this season, Athlone can rightfully feel disappointed that they did not secure all three points, the result dropping Athlone down from second to third on the WNL table.

Over the 90 plus minutes the visitors were the better team, and the unfortunate, luckless manner in which the penalty was conceded, after a hit and hope shot was adjudged to have hit the hand of Athlone’s best player on the day Jessica Hennessy, seemed unjust even to the neutral observer.

While Athlone can take far more positives than negatives from this game, it was really a case of two points dropped than one gained by the visitors. Despite the pre-kick off loss of star player Muireann Devaney to injury, Athlone set about their business and imposing themselves on Shels from the get-go. They snapped, harried and hassled the league leaders, and one could have been forgiven at stages into thinking it was Athlone who were eight points clear at the top and not the Dublin outfit.

Athlone’s front pairing of Madisson Gibson and Corbet caused havoc up front for Athlone and there seemed to be an element of panic on the home side’s defence every time Athlone broke out of their half. To counter that threat Shels made whole changes early in the tie to thwart the dynamic duo in blue and black.

Fittingly, it was the Athlone front pairs clever combination that led to the opening goal after 49 minutes. Gibson flicked on a long ball to Corbet, who from the edge of the area delicately chipped the ball over Shel’s keeper into the net.

In the middle, Athlone’s Scarlett Herron covered every blade of grass in Tolka Park, which on multiple occasions resulted in the breakdown of Shels’ passing moves. Entering the final quarter Shels dominated possession and forced Athlone to defend deep on several occasions. Jessica Hennessy, playing against her old team, didn’t miss a trick and cleared the visitors lines.

Fiona Owens and Laurie Ryan also made immense contributions to the visitor’s defensive cause and when needed, Athlone’s keeper Niamh Coombes dealt with everything Shels managed to get beyond the Athlone defence.

Having weathered the storm, Athlone were desperately unlucky not to double the lead in the 68th minute when Gibson’s shot, following a well worked Athlone break from defence, was saved by Shel’s Amanda Budden. As the game headed towards full time, Shels were again most fortunate not to concede, when Athlone broke up the field after the Shels keeper got stranded after coming up for a late corner, a last gasp clearance by the home side’s defence saving the day for the league leaders.

That late incident was not to be last piece of drama as just when it looked like Shels had nothing left in the tank, a speculative shot from well outside the box that seemed to be going nowhere, was deemed by the referee to have struck Jessica Hennessy’s hand. It was rough justice on Athlone and indeed a player who was superb throughout. Shel’s Noelle Murray made no mistake from the spot and gave the home side a point even their most hard core of supporters would struggle to argue their performance merited.

Athlone were the better of the two sides in the opening half. Their direct approach caused several nervous moments for the league leaders’ back four. For all their pressure in that opening period Athlone’s efforts failed to produce the lead. Corbet was unlucky to see an early close-range effort saved by Budden, after some good approach play by Roisin Molloy and Gibson.

The closest Athlone came to opening the scoring in the opening 45 minutes came in the minute when Gibson blasted over from a good position after being set up by Laurie Ryan. Shels did have their moments late in that half, and somewhat against the run of play had a long-range effort come off the Athlone post. Athlone had Coombes to thank after she made an excellent save in first half injury time when she kept out a shot from Shels Megan Lynch.

 

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