The match is also significant in that it will be the 100th competitive meeting between the two clubs.
Harps sit just one point ahead of Athlone at the top of the First Division thanks in the main to their draw away to UCD last weekend coupled with Athlone’s first defeat of the season to Wexford Youths at the same time.
Athlone are many people’s favourites for the First Division title this season. Harps boss Ollie Horgan is expecting a tight encounter on Friday night, even more so after Eddie Wallace’s side lost their unbeaten start to the season last Friday.
“Athlone obviously will be a very tough game,” said Horgan. “The fact that they were turned over last Friday makes it even tougher. Eddie Wallace has put together a serious side that will be there in the top positions at the end of the season.
“They have a good mixture of youth and experience with the likes of Garbhan Coughlan and Marco Chindea added to the likes of Aiden Collins and Eric Molloy,” he said of Friday’s opponents.
Harps for their part are still unbeaten and conceded their first goals of the campaign in last Friday’s 2-2 draw with UCD. Despite falling behind twice in the game, goals from Wilfried Tagbo and Kevin McHugh rescued a point for Harps – the second match running that the two players have found the net for Harps.
“A point was as much as we deserved on Friday night and maybe UCD might be a little disappointed not to have taken all three points on the night,” said Horgan as he looked back on the game.
“It was a fairly open game and was up for grabs right until the end but UCD had more of the ball and more of the chances so we were happy to get a point out of it. We showed a bit of character in equalising twice but I was disappointed that we conceded twice at corner kicks. We ran our luck a little at times especially when we went 2-1 behind but we got away with it.”
That late McHugh strike meant that Harps have stretched their unbeaten start to the season to five games and they now go into Friday’s game against Athlone having leapfrogged the midlands side into top spot. However, Horgan isn’t getting carried away just yet.
“We were in this same position 12 months ago in the league and possibly even the year before also but fell away after that, so I don’t think anyone is reading too much into the first few games.”
Not for the first time this season, Horgan acknowledged the support his side has received on the road and has appealed for the Donegal soccer public to come out and support his charges on Friday evening.
“The big number of supporters that turned up in Belfield were a huge help, urging us on from start to finish and most notably when we were behind in the game,” he said of the blue and white army. “We need all the help we can get and the players and staff were very appreciative of the people who went to Dublin to get behind us, especially when we fell behind in the game.
“Hopefully there will be a big crowd at Finn Park on Friday night to cheer us on – it’s certainly a huge help and the players deserve a big support for the huge effort they put in.”
In team news, Packie Mailey and Ruairi Keating remain out while Brian McGrory and Gareth Harkin are both doubtful and will face late fitness tests.
The last time the two clubs met was at the tail-end of the 2013 season at Finn Park. Athlone, crowned First Division champions the previous week, were beaten by the odd goal in five. The match also marked the end of Peter Hutton’s reign as Harps boss as he resigned as Manager after the game.
There is never much between these sides when they meet and goals are usually guaranteed – only once in the last 24 games between the sides has it finished scoreless.
Doubtful: Gareth Harkin, Brian McGrory.
Injured: Packie Mailey, Ruairi Keating.
FORM GUIDE (last six league games)
Finn Harps: L-D-W-W-W-D (11 pts)
Athlone Town: D-D-W-W-W-L (11 pts)
RECORD AGAINST ATHLONE TOWN (All competitions)
Friday’s game will be the 100th meeting of the two clubs, and the 48th to be played at Finn Park.