ATHLONE Town have some worrying problems to deal with ahead of their eagerly anticipated return to the League of Ireland Premier Division on Saturday night against Sligo Rovers (The Showgrounds, 7.45pm).
It was already known that Derek Prendergast and Barry Clancy were suspended, but manager Mick Cooke today confirmed that two midfielders are now major doubts for the weekend.
Alan Byrne is struggling having suffered a negative reaction in training to his ankle injury, while James O’Brien - such a crucial figure in Athlone’s midfield last season - is also a major concern with the flu.
Cooke said: “Alan obviously injured the ankle a couple of weeks ago in the Leinster Senior Cup win against Wexford Youths. He returned to training but has suffered a bit of a reaction. But Alan is a very strong-willed fella and hopefully he can make it for Saturday. I won’t put his long-term involvement at risk though, just for the sake of one game this weekend. Jamesy is also struggling but it’s unpredictable what can happen with the flu, so we’ll just have to monitor him until the weekend.”
Prendergast and Clancy are due to serve suspensions carried over from last season. In Prendergast’s case, the suspension follows his red card in last season’s FAI Senior Cup final for Drogheda Utd against Sligo Rovers.
Meanwhile, a large Athlone support is expected to descend on The Showgrounds on Saturday, as Athlone make their first appearance in Ireland’s top division for 18 years.
Fixtures for the opening weekend of the 2014 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division:
Friday, March 7 (all 7.45pm)
Cork City v St Patrick’s Athletic (Turner’s Cross); Drogheda Utd v Dundalk (United Park); Limerick FC v Bray Wanderers (Thomond Park); UCD v Bohemians (Belfield Bowl).
Saturday, March 8 (7.45pm)
Sligo Rovers v Athlone Town (The Showgrounds).
Sunday, March 9 (5.25pm)
Shamrock Rovers v Derry City (Tallaght Stadium).