McMillan to the rescue in 86th minute

Published 11/03/2014 | 05:40

Evan McMillan (No. 5) scrambles the ball over the line for Rovers winning goal against Athlone Town at the Showgrounds last Saturday. Photo: Carl Brennan

Evan McMillan emerged as Sligo Rovers unlikely hero with an 86th minute winner against Athlone Town in the opening game of the SSE Airtricity League at the Showgrounds last Saturday.

Evan McMillan emerged as Sligo Rovers unlikely hero with an 86th minute winner against Athlone Town in the opening game of the SSE Airtricity League at the Showgrounds last Saturday.

The centre-back was sprung from the bench as an emergency striker as Rovers desperately sought a breakthrough in a tense, nailbiting finish.

The switch paid handsome dividends as McMillan slotted home a dramatic winner, turning the ball home from close range at the near post after man-of-the-match John Russell had created the opportunity with a teasing cross from the right.

It was no more than Rovers deserved on a night when patience and perseverance proved the key to unlocking Athlone's heavily manned defence.

Indeed, the Midlanders' smash and grab tactics looked as if they would produce a shock result when they edged in front, courtesy of Philip Gorman's 52nd minute penalty.

Referee, Rob Rogers, adjudged that Danny Ledwith had handled Kealon Dillon's effort and Gorman put away the resultant spot kick in emphatic fashion, driving the ball low to Gary Rogers' left.

The opening goal came completely against the run of play as Rovers had dominated possession from the start and created a hatful of chances.

But they looked to be in real trouble when Athlone snatched the lead.

To their credit, they refused to panic, stuck to their attacking principles, and were eventually rewarded with a winning start to what promises to be an intriguing League campaign.

With the tireless Russell driving them on from midfield and Joseph Ndo orchestrating a string of slick attacking movements, Rovers piled on the pressure in a bid to turn things around after Athlone jumped in front.

Appropriately, it was Russell who delivered the goods, getting in at the back post to head home the equaliser from David Cawley's cross in the 62nd minute.

The move which led to the goal underlined Rovers passing philosophy as Keane and Odhiambo were both involved before Cawley provided the perfect cross for Russell to score.

The introduction of Raf Cretaro, Paul O'Connor and McMillan gave Rovers renewed momentum in the closing stages and they eventually took the spoils, thanks to McMillan's late winner.

Rovers set the tone right from the start, creating a number of good chances in the opening minutes.

Ndo was at the heart of most things during this period, setting up debutant Sean Maguire in the 3rd minute, only for the West Ham loanee to go crashing to the ground under a heavy challenge.

From the resultant free, Ledwith curled a delightful effort over the wall but could only watch in despair as the ball crashed against the upright.

Minutes later, Rovers engineered another blistering move as Jeff Henderson released Keane down the right flank and his cross was headed inches over the top by the inrushing Maguire.

Ledwith went close with two long range efforts as Rovers continued to force the pace and then Kalen Spillane, who was superb throughout, charged forward from the back before firing narrowly over the bar.

The pressure was unrelenting and continued after the break.

Twice within minutes of the restart, Rovers could and should have broken the deadlock.

A crisp move initiated by Russell gave Cawley a shooting chance in the 46th minute but his effort was parried by Athlone 'keeper, Paul Skinner. Minutes later, Skinner clawed away another Cawley effort but Eric Odhiambo's chipped effort on the rebound didn't carry enough power and the ball was scrambled clear.

The large home crowd was stunned into silence when Athlone crept in front in the 52nd minute but normal service was quickly restored as Rovers took up the running again.

Wave after wave of attack had Athlone at panic stations but, in fairness, they defended with great vigilance and courage with Alan Byrne forming a human shield in front of his overworked back four.

Russell's equaliser set the scene for a grandstand finish.

Keane's unselfish running on the right flank and Odhiambo's constant probing kept Rovers on the front foot and it seemed only a matter of time before the breakthrough would arrive.

It looked as if Athlone might just hold out, however, until McMillan forced home the winner.

Even then, there was still time for more drama.

Odhiambo had a close range effort saved by Skinner while, at the other end, Rogers was obliged to go full length to keep out James O'Brien's well struck shot deep into injury time.

SLIGO ROVERS: Rogers, Keane, Henderson, Spillane, Ledwith; Odhiambo, Cawley, Russell, Ndo, Greene, Maguire. Subs: Cretaro for Greene (62), O'Connor for Cawley (68), McMillan for Maguire (75)

ATHLONE TOWN: Skinner, McMahon, Dillon, Collins, S Byrne, A Byrne, Hughes, Marks, Gorman, Brennan, O'Brien. Subs: Rusk for Brennan (69), Harney for Marks (81), Sweeney for McMahon (88)

REFEREE: R Rogers, Dublin

Sligo Champion

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