Mountmellick United’s slim hopes of keeping in touch with the Senior Division leaders took another huge dent on Sunday afternoon when they entertained a very impressive Monksland side who proved too strong for the hosts, to condemn the Laois men to their second successive defeat against Athlone opposition and leave them struggling at the wrong end of the table.
Aiming to put last week’s disappointing 3-1 defeat to Melville Celtic firmly behind them, United took to the field looking to resurrect their season but right from the kick-off it was clear that that task wasn’t going to be straightforward by any means. Helped by the immaculate Conor Davis Park surface the visitors immediately got their slick passing game into free flow and they stunned the home side with an instant sucker punch.
Less than three minutes had elapsed when United conceded a free 25 yards out directly in front of Matsy Forde’s goal. Ian O’Reilly stepped up and fired a sweet strike that was allowed to pass through a non-existent Mountmellick wall and Forde could only look on as the ball whistled past him and into the empty net.
Mountmellick were briefly spurred into action by that early concession and they thought they were back in terms seven minutes later when John Watchorne prodded home after a superb overhead effort from Robbie Hibbitts only for the linesman to raise the offside flag just as Watchorne and his teammates went to celebrate.
That was as close as they came to getting back into contention and when Monksland doubled their advantage midway through the first half it already looked like this was only going to end up one way. A mix-up at the back gave the Athlone men a needless corner and they took full advantage of Mountmellick’s generosity when Robbie Connaughton rose all on his own to direct Les Browne’s whipped ball into the back of the net.
United were given a glimmer of hope when a trademark long throw-in from the left from Mark Grennan picked out John Watchorne who nodded home smartly but before Mountmellick had time to settle themselves in search of the equaliser they were two down again. There seemed to be little danger when Ian O’Reilly chipped a neat ball in to Robbie Connaughton on the edge of the six-yard box but he turned brilliantly and matched that with a fine volley to leave his side 3-1 to the good at half-time.
Colm Coss and Darragh Hanlon were introduced at the interval as Mountmellick sought to curtail the almost telepathic Monksland link-up play and for a while it seemed to be working. United were certainly stronger after the restart but for all their improvements in terms of possession and stronger challenges they still struggled to create anything that could trouble Melville stopper Seamie McManus. They did fashion one superb chance but an uncharacteristically poor finish from Robbie Hibbitts let Monksland off the hook with McManus making a smart stop to deny the usually lethal frontman.
After running into a brick wall time and again, United seemed to run out of ideas and with Monksland still looking extremely dangerous on the break it was the visitors who nabbed the only goal of the second half to round off the win with twelve minutes remaining. A clever curled pass from Noel Francis sprung the Mountmellick offside trap and Robbie Connaughton raced clear to apply a cool finish.
Mountmellick’s miserable afternoon was compounded when their dependable centre-half Mark Parkinson saw a late straight red card for a dangerous challenge on Noel Francis and Mountmellick have it all to do if they are to turn their season around.
MOUNTMELLICK: Matsy Forde, Robert Dempsey (Colm Coss ’45), Jason Fitzgibbon, Mark Parkinson, Niall Westman, Niall Donoher (Darragh Hanlon ’45), Mark Grennan (Gary Donoher ’78), Robbie Hibbitts, Mark Goodwin, John Watchorne, Ronan McCormack (Lee Collins ’63).
MONKSLAND: Seamie McManus, Paul McGovern, Keith O’Reilly, James Keegan, Cian Duffy, Stephen Flynn, Les Browne, Ian O’Reilly, Robbie Connaughton (Kevin Gaylord ’86), Kevin Brennan (Kevin Dunne ’65), Noel Francis.