Athlone Town’s play-off aspirations ended as Waterford FC seal promotion final place



This SSE Airtricity League First Division promotion play-off semi-final was delicately balanced following the first leg in the Athlone Town Stadium but a sensational hat-trick from teenage substitute Romeo Akachukwu ensured Waterford FC of a place in the final much to the disappointment of the visitors.

Waterford’s Dean McMenemy had the first chance of the game but Athlone had a good opportunity to open the scoring from their first chance after 11 minutes. Goalkeeper Sam Sargeant made a good save at the second attempt from Dan McKenna’s strike. Frantz Pierrot had a further chance for the visitors but there were few further scoring opportunities until later in the half as both teams settled.

Darragh Power’s cross from the right was collected by Enda Minogue with the Town keeper also denying McMenamy. Roland Idowu then fired wide for the Blues but Athlone had the best chance of breaking the deadlock 10 minutes from the half time break when a free kick from Pierrot was spilled by Sargeant but the keeper made up for his handling error by parrying a follow up attempt from Noah Van Geenen. The centre half should have slotted home the rebound from close range as the home team survived the scare. Valerii Dolia had Athlone’s last chance before the break as the first corner kick of the contest earned by Waterford ended with top scorer Ronan Coughlan firing over.

Three corners in the early stages of the second half saw the Blues turn up the heat but still Athlone held firm as they settled down again. Their only corner of the game came just before the hour mark. Pierrot then had a header saved but the first home substitution by manager Keith Long was to be the crucial moment in the tie.

Patrick Hickey was off target for the Town but the deadlock was finally broken after 64 minutes. Coughlan’s trickery near the end line, in spite of the close attention of the away defence, saw a pass pick out Akachukwu, the sub slotting the ball home from close range.

The lead was short-lived though as Athlone levelled matters five minutes later from the penalty spot. Pierrot was fouled and then stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way from the resulting spot kick. Pierrot’s goal though proved to be the last highlight for Athlone as Waterford finished stronger.

The lead was restored after 78 minutes. Athlone lost possession in midfield as Coughlan again set up Akachukwu and the Ireland under 19 star made no mistake with a low shot past Minogue. There was no reaction from Athlone thereafter as any dreams they had of promotion to the top flight were shattered.

A home corner ended the action in regulation time with an additional four minutes then being indicated. Athlone pushed forward and were undone on the counter attack as Akachukwu completed his hat trick. There was just time for the game to restart as Athlone’s 2023 campaign ended.


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