A very disappointing night for the Seagulls, not only suffering their first League defeat of the season but also losing the services of Ryan Graydon for their tight away fixture next week in Cobh.
It had all seemed highly promising at the start, Dylan Barnett scoring with a sweet shot from 22m just seven minutes in.
But Athlone captain Kurtis Byrne turned the fixture on its head with a double strike before the first quarter of an hour had passed.
Even after losing Stephen Kinsella to injury with the last quarter still to play, the home side were still pressing strongly for an equaliser when a clumsy foul on Conor Clifford led to an unseemly melee in the centre of the pitch which resulted somehow in cards for several players who hadn't been centrally involved, among them Bray keeper Brian Maher and the influential Ryan Graydon, whose version was red.
The opening minutes were inconclusive, though an early Athlone free was met by a defensive header from Andrew Quinn, conceding the first corner of the night (there would eventually be ten, of which Bray won 8). so it would be difficult to say whether Barnett's run through the middle was with or against the balance of play. It followed a strong move by Stephen Kinsella up the right and a loose clearance which the Bray defender was quick to surge forward on.
A Brandon Kavanagh cross shortly afterwards was too long for his team-mates, a weakness that became a pattern on the Bray side as the game progressed.
But former Seagull Adam Wixted's cross minutes later exposed a further weakness, Maher getting a touch on the low ball only to move it into the path of Kurtis Byrne from whose foot it rebounded and trickled over the line before either side could get to it.
A Kinsella move and a cross that fell between attack and keeper intervened before an Athlone throw saw both Wixted and Byrne in space that allowed them to combine again, a cut back almost from the end line finding the Athlone skipper just outside the Bray area with enough time to volley low past the diving Maher.
Midway through the half, Byrne suffered an accidental ball in the face, one of several such incidents in a generally injury free encounter, and from the hopped re-start Bray found themselves fruitlessly appealing for a corner.
Minutes later, Kavanagh was in place to receive after a throw that followed his corner, but his shot from distance flew high and left of target. Five minutes after that Byrne in turn fired from distance but his snap shot went wide.
Athlone were paying close attention to Kinsella whose next run was foiled at the cost of a caution for Derek Daly, and as the break neared Graydon took another chance that rushed just past the far post.
Another foul on Kinsella in time added drew Referee Alan Carey's card again, this time for James Doona.
Doona was in action early in the second period, a solo run ending when he was surrounded and dispossessed, while just within the hour Kinsella showed why he was getting such attention by working his way past three Athlone players before shooting. His shot, however, was slightly deflected into Mícheál Schlingermann's hands.
Doona was in range midway through the half, but his shot was blocked out for a corner, following which Kinsella was again brought down, but the referee waved play on as Bray still had possession. They lost it moments later, which could have allowed the official to bring play back for a free, as no advantage had accrued.
Worse, the Bray man suffered what appeared to be a muscle pull under attention from Derek Daly and was substituted a short while later.
Luka Lovic missed a close range opportunity just inside the final quarter hour, skying when within a couple of metres of the goal, and none of Bray 's corners, won off defenders, produced anything worthwhile.
With just minutes left good work by Graydon and the ball not falling right for substitute Joe Doyle saw the Athlone defence failing to clear properly and Kavanagh getting an opportunity, but firing very narrowly left.
At this stage, another away goal would certainly have been against the run, and when Doyle was the victim of a push in midfield by Dylan Hand and the ball found substitute Shane Barnes who evaded the defence and rolled it into the net the referee belatedly awarded the free - but it was taken by Maher in his area.
This was followed by a bad challenge by Barnes on Clifford and a push afterwards by the Athlone player which drew the ire of Bray players and eventual brought most of both teams into a confrontation Carey was barely able to contain.
After consultation with Assistant David Berry, the referee eventually brandished a red for Ryan Graydon, who hadn't appeared to be a leading actor in the affray. This was followed by bookings for victim Clifford, Athlone's Barnes - and the Bray goalie, who had been trying to calm things down.
The remaining play was somewhat anticlimatic, though a Clifford shot was just touched over the bar by Schlingermann, and the corner headed too high by Barry, while in the final action of any import Byrne, receiving unmarked, was also off target.
Mícheál Ó hUanacháin
Bray Wanderers: 1 Brian Maher ; 8 Mark Byrne, 4 Andrew Quinn, 5 Aaron Barry (c), 3 Dylan Barnett ; 7 Ryan Graydon , 16 Darren Craven, 6 Conor Clifford , 11 Brandon Kavanagh; 22 Stephen Kinsella; 17 Luka Lovic