report to follow
by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United will be aiming to put a significant gap between themselves and bottom of the table Athlone Town as they travel to the Athlone Town Stadium on Friday, kick-off 7.45pm.
United are currently eleven points ahead of the Town in ninth but sit only two points above Bohemians in the relegation playoff position following a dismal run of form.
Drogheda have lost nine of their last ten league games but should have renewed confidence coming into the huge clash as they finally recorded a victory over Ulster Senior League side Cockhll Celtic to advance to the third round of the FAI Cup.
They will be without captain Gavin Brennan who is suspended while Stephen Maher continues his recovery from an operation. Both Michéal Schlingermann and Shane Grimes are rated as doubtful but Ciaran McGuigan is back having completed his work commitments in America.
As for Athlone, the Town have had a disastrous first half to their return to the Premier Division having only recorded one victory all season, a 2-0 win over UCD three weeks ago.
Former Drogheda manager Mick Cooke was replaced by Keith Long a month ago in an attempt to change Athlone’s fortunes but results have remained hard to come by.
Long will be without the suspended pair of Alan Byrne and Barry Clancy while the injured quintet of Stephen Quigley, Graham Rusk, Philly Gorman, Sean Brennan and Derek Prendergast are all rated as doubtful.
United were victorious when the sides met earlier in the season as a hat trick from Declan O’Briem was enough for a 3-2 victory while Drogheda also eliminated Athlone on their path to EA Sports Cup glory in 2012.
Speaking on Thursday, Drogheda manager Robbie Horgan called for further passion from his players as they aim to move away from the relegation places.
“In the Cup games, making it through to the next round is all that matters but I was also looking for a performance from the players. We haven’t given the fans much to shout about and it was important that we showed character and particularly a lot more passion. When we went 2-1 down in a game that we dominated, we showed excellent resilience to win out 4-2. I would consider that performance to be a stepping-stone, I’m still looking for more and hopefully that will come tomorrow night.
“The result has lifted the players but it is vital that we keep it going. We defeated Bohs a few weeks ago and everyone thought that it was a fresh start but that didn’t happen. Training has been very positive and the squad is upbeat but we know that Athlone will present a difficult challenge for us.
“They are in a worse position than we are but they probably look at Friday’s game as an opportunity to really close the gap. I think it will be a cagey affair and the first goal could be critical. We need to get the right balance in the side particularly from set pieces as Athlone scored twice from corners against us at United Park. Their form has improved since Keith Long took over but we will be up for the game and looking for the three points.
“There are changes to be made and I am implementing them as we go along but I have no doubt that a lot of the players are looking forward to the midseason break. A victory on Friday will see us rise up the table and everything will look a lot more positive for the second half of the campaign.”