Waterford stretch lead in front of large crowd
Waterford FC 2 Athlone Town 1
In August, 2016 Waterford United defeated Athlone Town 3-1 at the RSC in front of an attendance of 167 people. Fast forward to Friday night last at the same venue and with the club resurrected to Waterford FC and against the same opponents a crowd of 1,932 were present to watch the Blues win 2-1 and they have now moved three points clear at the top of the table. It has been a remarkable eight months for the club and to date the Blues have lost just one competitive match this season and that was on the opening day of the season away to Athlone. Mark O'Sullivan scored the two goals which won the game and with Davy McDaid missing due to suspension this was a good result against a team who have improved greatly since that opening day fixture.
Athlone Town goalkeeper Igor Labuts was called into action to make a great save inside the opening minute of the tie when Derek Daly stepped over a free kick 25-yards from goal but his effort was superbly kept out with Mark O'Sullivan failing to direct the rebound on target.
O'Sullivan had a chance to put the hosts in front on eight minutes when he got his head on the end of a right-wing delivery from Dean O'Halloran but his free header at the front post was well saved by visiting keeper Labuts.
It was the Blues striker that went agonisingly close to breakthrough goal on 16 minutes when Kenny McEvoy sent in a cross from the left that was met at the back post by O'Sullivan but his spectacular overhead kick was just inches wide.
An incredible passage of play failed to produce the opening goal for the hosts on 24 minutes when Dean O'Halloran bravely won a header that set up Mark O'Sullivan, who played the ball to Shane O'Connor and his chip of the advancing Igor Labuts came back off the post.
The ball then rebound nicely into the path of Kenny McEvoy, who tried his luck with an effort from the edge of the penalty area that was superbly saved by Labuts and after O'Connor picked up the loose ball, his shot was blocked by the Athlone Town defence.
After a scoreless first half, the second period of the game was less than two minutes old when the Blues struck the front when Dean O'Halloran sent in a corner kick from the right that was flicked on by Kenny Browne to the back post where Mark O'Sullivan bundled the ball home from close range.
It took a stunning save from Athlone Town keeper Igor Labuts to deny the hosts a second goal on 55 minutes when Derek Daly sent in a brilliant right-wing corner kick that found the head of Garry Comerford but his close-range header was magnificently tipped onto the crossbar.
The Blues doubled their lead on 63 minutes when a long ball from goalkeeper Matthew Connor picked out Mark O'Sullivan on the left side of the penalty area and he shrugged off the intentions of Kirlis Grigorovs to nip the ball past the advancing Igor Labuts.
Athlone Town got themselves right back into the contest less than sixty seconds later when substitute Chris Rodrigues picked up possession of the ball inside the penalty area to fire past a helpless Waterford netminder Matthew Connor.
Connor came to his sides rescue on 69 minutes when the visitors were awarded a penalty kick when Conor Whittle fouled goalscorer Rodrigues on the left side of the penalty area and it was Conor Barry that saw his spot kick superbly saved by the Blues goalkeeper. The play moved from one end to the other at a frantic pace from then on and both sides had chances to score again. Mark O'Sullivan was unlucky not to complete his hat-trick in the last minute with a super strike but Igor Labuts produced a stunning save.
Waterford FC. Matthew Connor, Conor Whittle (David Mulcahy `75), Kenny Browne, Patrick McClean, Derek Daly; Dean O'Halloran, Anthony McAlavey, Garry Comerford, Shane O'Connor, Kenny McEvoy (Tom Smith `65); Mark O'Sullivan
Athlone Town. Igor Labuts (Connor Gleeson `90), Niall Scullion, Frederico Hernandez, Kirils Grigorovs, Cormac Raftery (Chris Rodrigues `56), Colm Coss, Jason Lyons, Dragos Sfrijan, Walter Invernizzi, Jose Viegas, Conor Barry (Jason Molloy `72)
Referee: Paula Brady. Assistants. Michelle O'Neill and Brian Fenlon.