Seagulls slump to defeat against Athlone Town
Bray Wanderers’ grip on the play-offs was weakened as they slumped to a 0-1 defeat at the hands of sixth placed Athlone Town at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday night.
A set-piece goal yet again proved to be their undoing as Scott Delaney nodded home early in the second period to cut the gap between the Seagulls and the Co. Westmeath side to five points with five games remaining.
The previously suspended duo of Conor Clifford, Dylan Barnett and Richie O’Farrell – plus Brian Maher who was on international duty – were all thrust straight back into the starting XI at the expense of Kian Clarke, Aaron Barry, Luka Lovic, Ryan Graydon and Callum Thompson. Sam Verdon was also given a rare start.
Up to 1,200 attendants were permitted and it looked like a sizeable chunk of that allowance was present at the Carlisle Grounds, but they would not have been too enamoured with what they witnessed as the sides produced a miserable contest.
Bray fell behind in the early stages against UCD the previous week and almost suffered a similar faith against Athlone Town. With five minutes on the clock, Town captain Kurtis Byrne’s corner kick was met by centre-half Scott Delaney and his powerful header bounced back off the post.
Darren Craven found himself on the left of the attacking trident once again and his lay-off to Brandon Kavanagh on nine minutes saw the Rovers loanee skip by his man and sting Micheal Schlingermann’s fingertips with a drive from distance.
On the quarter hour mark, James Donna nodded the ball into Dylan Hand’s path and the left-back swung a leg at it as he strode onto it. The speculative effort swerved and dipped menacingly but ultimately flew wide of Brian Maher’s goal, but the shot-stopper did look momentarily worried.
Richie O’Farrell collected the ball midway into the Town half and turned on it smartly. With Town backing off ahead of him, he carried the ball into the space and obeyed the fans’ cries to shoot. His effort took a wicked deflection and looked to be looping over the hapless Schlingermann but he pulled off a stunning save to claw it over.
A vicious, pinged cross from Dylan Barnett fizzed through the sea of bodies packed into the penalty area and actually found Kavanagh beyond the back stick in some space but his improvised flick only succeeded in rolling the ball into Schlingermann’s grateful arms.
Bray almost conceded from a corner early in the first half and they clearly didn’t learn their lesson. Four minutes into the second period, Delaney was once again able to wriggle free but this time he punished the Seagulls as he scrambled the ball over the line.
The toothless Bray attack – with little or no pace on the flanks – caused Athlone little danger.
Paul Doolin’s men almost doubled their lead when Kurtis Byrne threaded a fine pass through for James Doona. He drilled an effort at the near post, but Brian Maher got a hand to it and touched it onto the post.
A corner kick from Craven on 70 minutes prompted some heart-stopping pinball for the visitors but they survived, and Bray lost O’Farrell following a clash of heads.
That injury saw Sean Callan introduced, with Andrew Quinn going to right-back and Mark Byrne pushing into midfield.
Some clever one-touch stuff between Kavanagh and Shaw saw the latter tripped right on the edge of the area. The crowed waited patiently in expectation as Brandon Kavanagh stood over the ball but his attempt hit a leg in the wall and went wide. He held his face in frustration and it was probably a sentiment strongly echoed in the stands.
Former Liverpool youngster Glen McAuley had two opportunities to put the final nail in Bray’s coffin. The first saw him catch Maher with his follow-through as he volleyed inches wide.
Next, he got beyond Sean Callan but could not find a way past Maher who had recovered from the knock and held the striker’s effort comfortably.
Bray Wanderers: Brian Maher; Mark Byrne, Andrew Quinn, Dan Jones, Dylan Barnett; Brandon Kavanagh, Conor Clifford, Richie O’Farrell; Sam Verdon, Joe Doyle, Darren Craven. Subs: Gary Shaw for Verdon (62); Steven Kinsella for Doyle (62); Sean Callan for O’Farrell (73); Callum Thompson for Kavanagh (82). Not used: Kian Clarke, Aaron Barry, Luka Lovic, Ryan Graydon.
Athlone Town: Micheal Schlingermann; Aidan Friel, Killian Cantwell, Scott Delaney, Dylan Hand; Oisin Duffy, Brandon McCann, Tunmise Sobowale, James Doona; Kurtis Byrne; Glen McCauley. Subs: Stephen Meaney for McAuley (90+1). Not used: Tommy Holland, David Brookes, Tomelo Tiou, Jack Reynolds, Adam Wixted, Dan McKenna, Katlego Mashigo, Lee Duffy.
Referee: David Keeler
Venue: Carlisle Grounds, Bray.