No room for complacency as key fixtures loom for United

Galway United’s Francely Lomboto is brought down by Athlone Town’s Patrick Hickey, leading to David Hurley scoring a penalty in action from the SSE Airtricity League game at Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday, Photo: - Mike Shaughnessy

Galway United’s Francely Lomboto is brought down by Athlone Town’s Patrick Hickey, leading to David Hurley scoring a penalty in action from the SSE Airtricity League game at Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday, Photo: - Mike Shaughnessy

Galway United now sit 12 points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity first division after beating Athlone Town 3-1 at home on Friday night. Second-placed Waterford could only manage a draw in Longford on Saturday, which allowed United to extend their commanding lead at the top.

However there is little room for complacency. The halfway point of the season has yet to be reached. Moreover, two difficult assignments await this weekend. Tomorrow, United travel to third-placed Bray Wanderers (7.45pm ) before hosting Finn Harps in Eamonn Deacy Park on Monday (5pm ).

It is noteworthy the only points they have dropped on an incredible run of 15 wins in 16 came on the last double-game weekend. Nonetheless, John Caulfield's side has navigated tricky ties admirably in the past few weeks and will hope to build on these performances.

On Friday United smothered an Athlone side which has caused plenty of problems in the division. They overcame adversity also, losing full-back Regan Donelon in the warm-up. Oisín O'Reilly deputised capably at left-back and United rarely looked in bother in the first half except for one Athlone counter-attack.

The home side enjoyed an ideal start when Francely Lomboto went down under a Patrick Hickey challenge in the 12th minute. Referee Gavin Colfer pointed to the spot and David Hurley converted his fifth penalty of the season for a valuable early lead. For the subsequent half hour, United struggled to play through Athlone's low block, but did have a number of other strong penalty shouts waved away.

Nevertheless, a remarkable 13 first-half home corners were forced. Just before the half, the Tribesmen created a flurry of chances. Ed McCarthy and Stephen Walsh were to the fore of the United attack, but they were destined to go into the break with only a slender 1-0 lead.

It was the 14th corner that did the trick after the turnaround. Vincent Borden met the delivery with a firm header that was only cleared as far as Walsh, who drilled his shot home through a crowded goalmouth from 15 yards out.

Athlone had made a triple substitution at half-time and showed more adventure in the second. On the hour mark, the livewire Frantz Pierrot turned Maurice Nugent in the box and was hauled down for an undeniable penalty. The Haitian dispatched the penalty to make it 2-1.

The jeopardy did not last too long as United restored their two-goal cushion moments later. Hurley delivered a dangerous free that was diverted on to the post by an Athlone defender, and Killian Brouder reacted quickest to the rebound for a 3-1 lead.

Thereafter United were professional and saw the game out with a minimum of fuss and will now face a similar threat in Bray Wanderers, who have so far been the best of the rest outside of Galway and Waterford. They have already held Waterford at home and are unbeaten in their last four games. Moreover, they will be keen to exact revenge against United, having gone down 6-0 in Terryland earlier in the season.

From a Galway perspective, there will be continued concerns over the fitness of Donelon and Colm Horgan, who encouragingly was fit enough to take his place on the bench on Friday. They have already proved adept at slotting in players into the back four with Conor O'Keeffe and Maurice Nugent making telling contributions in a variety of positions.

As the fixtures pile up, this strength in depth is likely to be a key determinant of this season's success. The summer transfer window has also had a big bearing on the last couple of seasons and the United hierarchy will be mindful their challengers will seek to strengthen.

•Galway United Friends' Co-op is running a bus to Friday's match against Bray Wanderers at The Carlisle Grounds, leaving The Connacht Hotel, Dublin Road, Galway at 4pm and picking up at The Maldron Hotel, Oranmore. To book a seat, contact Stephen Connolly (085 ) 2206645.

 

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