Kerry FC fail to weather Athlone Town storm as visitors strike for late winner in Tralee

Athlone Town substitute Valerii Dolia netted the game’s only goal in the 88th minute to consign Kerry FC to their fifth defeat of the season

Kerry FC captain Matt Keane challenge for the ball against Athlone Town at Mounthawk Park this evening. Photo by Domnick Walsh

John O'DowdKerryman


Kerry FC 0

Athlone Town  1

It’s the hope that kills you...

Although they had never really looked like gaining their first League of Ireland victory, Kerry FC were homing in on a much sought-after opening clean sheet of the season as this contest with Athlone Town headed into the dying moments.

Despite spending the entire second half under the cosh, with Wayne Guthrie and some of his defenders saving the day several times, the home team looked like they had weathered the storm, before heartbreak ensued, when visitors’ substitute Valerii Dolia slotted home the game’s only goal in the 88th minute.

On a terrible night of strong winds and driving rain, Kerry FC enjoyed plenty of territorial dominance in the opening half with the elements in their favour. However, it wasn’t to be as easy to create clear-cut chances, with the ball failing to stick in attack on too many occasions.

With the youthful exuberance of Ronan Teahan to the fore in the early exchanges, the home side had their first opportunity in the seventh minute after Athlone Town’s Matthew Leal was booked for a crunching tackle on Kevin Williams. Ryan Kelliher’s 30-yard effort hit the wall and was cleared.

The first quarter saw only sporadic forays into the Kerry FC half by the visitors, though with a strong defence commandingly led by Dutch centre-half Noan van Geenen, they were relatively comfortable at the other end, while Frantz Pierrot and Isaie Louis showed promise further forward.

Despite the difficulties in keeping possession for any sustained period, Kerry FC looked dangerous from crosses, and it was from Nathan Gleeson’s drilled delivery from the right wing, after Kelliher’s good approach play, that saw Leo Gaxha swivel on the proverbial sixpence in the 24th minute. Unfortunately for the home faithful, Haji Abdikadir superbly blocked his goal-bound effort.

Slowly but surely, Athlone Town grew in confidence, and they came close to making the breakthrough on the half-hour. Aaron Connolly’s free-kick from the right wing led to a spell of hesitant Kerry FC defending, and after a couple of shots were half-cleared, the tricky Louis blazed over with a decent chance.

Two minutes later came the move of the half from a Kerry FC perspective. Putting a delicious attacking combination together, through Matt Keane, Kelliher, Teahan and Sean O’Connell, the left-back’s low cross rebounded to Gaxha. Turning swiftly onto his left peg, and opening up his body, the dynamic attacker unluckily lost his footing, and the ball scuffed well wide of the near post.

With Williams and O’Connell particularly comfortable at the back, and Keane and Teahan having their moments in the middle, Kerry FC created one final half-chance before the break. Graham O’Reilly’s cross saw the lively Gaxha miss with an acrobatic attempt, Teahan’s ensuing header carrying no power.

Disappointed not to have tested the Athlone Town netminder, after a 45 minutes where there was a lot of huffing and puffing rather than inspiration, Kerry FC would have been expecting an increased attacking threat from the visitors on the resumption, and that’s exactly what transpired.

Indeed, the Kerry FC goal led a sort of a charmed life on numerous occasions throughout the second half, with Athlone Town turning the screw to a significant degree. Weather conditions now in their favour, and with Oisin Duffy and Charles Mutawe introduced, they gained a degree of control.

Alarm bells were ringing for Kerry FC in the 47th minute when the tricky Louis eventually got the better of O’Reilly on the left flank, and his low cross found striker Pierrot in the box. Unable to get a clear connection on his effort, the ball still travelled towards the net, O’Connell booting it to safety from near the goalline.

That was a sign of things to come for Kerry FC, and their next lucky escape arrived ten minutes later. This time Pierrot was the creator, delivering from the left wing, and Wayne Guthrie was forced into a double reflex save, initially to prevent an own goal and then to stop a follow-up Athlone rebound.

The increasingly busy Kerry FC goalkeeper was called into action again in the 61st minute, diving to deflect a blistering 25-yard drive from the influential Pierrot out for a corner, and the Athlone Town centre-forward was to the fore again ten minutes later, O’Reilly clearing his mis-hit strike from danger.

Surviving four times when serious danger to their goal appeared on the horizon, Kerry FC were restricted to very sporadic forward excursions themselves, especially after Gaxha’s 66th minute withdrawal, though Gleeson did well to win a free on the edge of the box in the 80th minute that ultimately led to nothing.

With captain Keane and midfield partner Teahan picking up yellow cards down the home straight, as did Athlone defender German Rodriguez, Kerry FC were edging closer to that much-coveted first clean sheet, and the stars seemed to be aligning in their favour in the 86th minute.

From a Connolly free, Patrick Hickey rose above Keane at the far post to head across goal for advancing left-back Abdikadir to finish confidently at the back post, but the referee disallowed the finish, sighting a foul on the Kerry FC captain from Hickey in their aerial collision.

Maybe Billy Dennehy’s charges thought the work was done, after that particular let-off, but disaster was to strike two minutes later. From a quickly-taken set-piece, an Athlone Town right-wing delivery was superbly held up by Pierrot, and when he laid the ball to his left, Ukrainian substitute Dolia beat Guthrie at his near post for the winner.

After holding out the opposition for 88 long minutes, Kerry FC were stunned by Dolia’s goal and, even in the five minutes added on, they had no attacking arsenal left in the tank, Athlone coming close to a second, Guthrie saving well again from Connolly, and O’Reilly making another goal-line interception.

So near and yet so far. The wait – for the first clean sheet and first victory – goes on. The learning must continue.

KERRY FC: Wayne Guthrie; Graham O’Reilly, Kevin Williams, Shane Guthrie, Jonathan Hannafin, Sean O’Connell; Leo Gaxha, Matt Keane, Ronan Teahan, Nathan Gleeson; Ryan Kelliher.

Subs: Sean Kennedy (Gaxha 66), Sean McGrath (Gleeson 86), Cian Brosnan (O’Connell 90+3), Kennedy Amechi (Kelliher 90+3).

ATHLONE TOWN: Enda Minogue; Haji Abdikadir, German Fuentes Rodriguez, Noah van Geenen, Aaron McBride; Adam Lennon, Aaron Connolly, Patrick Hickey, Matthew Leal, Isaie Louis; Frantz Pierrot.

Subs: Charles Mutawe (Leal ht), Oisin Duffy (McBride ht), Valerii Dolia for Louis, inj (71), Matthew McCarrick (Lennon 90).

REFEREE: Ian O’Keeffe (Waterford).