Scottish striker Tam McManus was the hero for Limerick as his 52nd-minute strike saw them defeat ten-man Athlone Town 2-1 at Thomond Park on Good Friday evening, after Robbie Williams’ first-half header had been cancelled out by Kealan Dillon.
Limerick were in control of possession but it was Seán Byrne that forced the first save of the night as his low strike was well turned around the post by Barry Ryan.
The Superblues replied with an opening of their own after the ball broke to Jason Hughes on the right of the box but his powerful shot was well pushed away by Paul Skinner.
Shortly after, Limerick hit the front when Shane Tracy’s free-kick was met by a glancing header from Williams which found the bottom corner. The English left-back almost grabbed his second on the half-hour but his strike from distance flashed just wide.
However, for all Limerick’s dominance, Athlone equalised five minutes before the break when hesitancy in the home defence allowed Dillon in and he finished to the far corner of the net from close-in.
But Limerick regained their lead seven minutes into the second half when McManus did brilliantly to lose his man in the box and then fired a fabulous curling shot to the far bottom corner.
The Shannonsiders should have been out of sight 11 minutes from time after substitute Ross Mann won a penalty, a foul which saw Skinner sent-off. However, Tracy’s spot-kick was saved by stand-in netminder Seán Brennan.
And Brennan almost created another leveller towards the end when a long free-kick was knocked down by Alan Byrne to Philly Gorman in the box but he shot wide with just Ryan to beat.
Manager Stuart Taylor stayed with the same side that lined out in the win over Bohemians seven days earlier, while this time including Colm Murphy and 18-year-old Mann – who scored twice in last weekend’s Munster Senior Cup semi-final win – on the bench.
Limerick started brightly, although it was Athlone’s James O’Brien who had the first shot of the evening on three minutes, his effort from just outside the box collected easily by Ryan.
On nine minutes, Tracy’s free-kick into the box was just missed by Rory Gaffney in the area, and though Skinner dropped what appeared an easy ball, Athlone eventually cleared any danger.
Shortly after, Athlone went close when Byrne’s low strike from 20-yards almost crept into the bottom corner but Ryan got down smartly to push it around the post. The ‘keeper was then alert to cut out a dangerous Dillon cross from the right.
Past the quarter-hour, Limerick had their first real chance when after a number of players got involved, the ball broke out to Hughes on the right of the area but his powerful shot was well beaten away by Skinner.
Eventually, Limerick made their dominance in possession count on the scoreboard when Tracy’s excellent in-swinging free-kick was met by Williams in a crowd of bodies and his glancing header went into the corner of the net.
Limerick could have doubled their advantage on 27 minutes when another wicked Tracy free-kick delivery ended sitting up for Gaffney at the back post but his close-range header was straight at Skinner.
On the half-hour, Limerick almost made it 2-0 when Shaun Kelly’s cross-field pass found Williams in space and he took a couple of touches forward before unleashing a low drive that whistled just past the post.
The hosts continued to threaten, with Tracy particularly dangerous from set-pieces, but they were hit with a blow on 40 minutes when Craig Curran was forced off with injury and replaced by McManus.
While Curran was down, O’Brien’s header was saved by Ryan. Athlone, though, did have the ball in the net soon after when hesitancy in the Limerick defence allowed Dillon in and he poked home from close range.
Early in the second half, Dillon’s corner was met by Conor McMahon but his header bounced down and wide of the target.
But Limerick were soon back in front when McManus created plenty of space for himself in the box with a clever turn and then struck a superb curling effort to the bottom corner.
Midway through the half, Mann was handed his league debut when replacing Prince Agyemang. After a quiet period, the game came alive on 75 minutes, when firstly Williams headed a Tracy corner off the post.
Then Mann showed his pace to get away from the defence and get to the ball ahead of Skinner who took him out. The ‘keeper was red carded, and replaced by midfielder Brennan in goals, but he saved Tracy’s spot-kick before Gaffney blasted over the rebound.
And ten-man Athlone should have levelled on the 90 when Brennan’s long free-kick into the box was knocked down by Byrne to Gorman but he poked the ball wide with just Ryan to beat, as Limerick held on to make it back-to-back league wins.
Limerick: Barry Ryan, Shaun Kelly, Samuel Oji, Stephen Folan, Robbie Williams, Shane Tracy, Shane Duggan ©, Jason Hughes, Prince Agyemang (Ross Mann 66), Craig Curran (Tam McManus 39), Rory Gaffney. Goals: R Williams (21), T McManus (52) Booked: R Williams (63), R Gaffney (89) Unused Subs: Shane Cusack (GK), Patrick Nzuzi, Darragh Rainsford, Colm Murphy, Tony Whitehead.
Athlone Town: Paul Skinner, Conor McMahon, Alan Byrne ©, Derek Prendergast, Barry Clancy (Seán Brennan 79), Seán Byrne, James O’Brien, Mark Hughes, Kealan Dillon (Jason Marks 87), Graham Rusk (Ian Sweeney 90+4), Philly Gorman. Goal: K Dillon (40). Booked: K Dillon (85). Sent-Off: P Skinner (78). Unused Subs: Craig Sexton (GK), Declan Brennan, Neil Harney, Niall Scullion.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer (Cork). Attendance: 1,141 (Official)
Source: Limerick FC