College leave it late in enthralling encounter

 
 

UCD 2, Longford Town 1: UCD retained top spot and cemented hopes of automatic promotion with a belated brace against a plucky Longford Town, writes Shane Murphy

On a miserably wet night, UCD fought back to forge a vital victory in the most unlikely of circumstances against a feisty Longford Town side keen to upset the odds.

Confident of victory beforehand, College laboured against their journeymen opponents. With nothing to play for, the visitors displayed tenacious and resolute defending to frustrate their hosts for most of the game.

UCD started brightly with a succession of corners in the opening period, blitzing the overwhelmed Longford defence. Centre-back Sean Harding sliced open the Longford rearguard after fifteen with an incisive pass to Ciaran Kilduff, whose attempt to round Aaron Shanahan in the Longford goal was just narrowly foiled.

The students continued to press and in the 20th minute, centre forward Evan McMillan spurned a glorious opportunity to put College in front. After great work by Paul Corry on the right flank, McMillan headed weakly at Shanahan.

UCD, employing a 4-5-1 formation for much of the first half, dominated possession in midfield, but couldn’t find the crucial final pass.

Longford slowly began to assert themselves as the game developed. On the half, hour a great save by UCD keeper Gerard Barron from Longford’s centre forward, Tom King, was matched by an equally impressive tackle from UCD captain Ronan Finn to deny Longford Town an unlikely lead.

UCD should have broken the deadlock after 34 minutes with great play by John Reilly on the right side. Dispossessing the Longford defence, Reilly set up Kilduff to put in a teasing ball, flashed across the goal face narrowly missing Evan McMillan to deny the students what would have been a certain goal.

UCD continued to press down the right flank looking for an opening only to be denied by the stubborn Longford backline, who were lucky to find themselves level at the break after some dominant play by the Students.

College started the second half poorly, conceding in the 49th minute against the run of play: a cross swung in by King found an unmarked Derek Glynn to tap into an empty UCD net. The opening goal shocked the Bowl into silence such had been the Students’ dominance. Indeed, the goal seemed to galvanise the visitors who sensed an upset might be on the cards.

There was a palpable sense that UCD might surrender this game with potentially devastating consequences for their promotion bid. UCD boss Martin Russell urged his young charges forward in a bid to rescue the game.

When College had a goal disallowed for offside in the 73rd minute it seemed as if it was to be one of those frustrating sporting nights, especially when the hosts were deprived an equaliser – a goal line scramble involving three Longford Town players denied the outstretched Kilduff after Ronan Finn’s searching cross.

Despite Longford’s heroic efforts in defence, UCD eventually got the equaliser they deserved. In the 81st minute, a cracking finish from David McMillan on the half volley struck the underside of the crossbar to break the resolute Longford defence. It was only McMillan’s spectacular finish that enabled the Students to finally break tenacious Longford defending and level at 1-1.

UCD went in search of a winner, and two minutes later stunned their opponents into submission. McMillan was again the architect, cut down unnecessarily in the Town box by Jordan McMillan, who duly received his marching orders for his second bookable offence. Talismanic captain Ronan Finn stepped up to coolly slot past Shanahan in the Longford goal and give the Students a 2-1 lead. Delirium erupted at the Bowl, which now bore a striking resemblance to Hill 16 as chants of “you’ll never beat the boys in blue” rung out from the stand.

Scenes of all-round relief greeted the final whistle. College left it late, but displayed the grit and determination of champions to keep them firmly in control of their own destiny and heap further pressure on bitter rivals Shelbourne as the season reaches its climax.

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