UCD 1 – 0 Drogheda United: An early goal gave UCD a much-needed victory in their battle for survival, writes Fearghal Kerin.
A dire run of form over the past month has come to a timely end as UCD chalked up their first win in five games. This victory gives the Students a boost as they enter the final straight in their battle to remain in the Eircom League.
After being disappointingly unimaginative in their previous home outing, few would have given the Students much chance against the defending Drogheda champions on Friday night.
Another defeat would have plunged the College side further into the mire, but a Brian King goal on the quarter hour mark gave a dogged UCD the lead that they refused to give up despite the best efforts of the Louth side.
The Drogs’ line was led by Eamonn Zayed who gained fame with his breakthrough at Bray Wanderers and went on to gain success with Crewe Alexandria in the English Championship as well as featuring in the Scottish Premier League.
However, for all the Libyan striker’s guile and that of his strike partner Richie Baker, he was unable to provide the breakthrough that Drogheda needed.
It was inevitable that UCD manager, Pete Mahon, would eventually get UCD performing to the level that most observers claim they are capable of and that results would inevitably follow.
However, few would have predicted that Drogheda would prove to be the team to leave the Bowl empty handed. Only weeks ago, Drogheda were unlucky not to eliminate the famous Dynamo Kiev from the Champions League, with the Ukrainian side going on to draw with Arsenal in their opening group game. Despite the Champions’ pedigree however, this has been a disappointing title defence as Bohemians’ have steam-rolled their way to what seems an inevitable Eircom League title.
College were determined to make in-roads into the United defence and fashioned a number of half chances within the opening period
From the start of last Friday’s clash, College were determined to make in-roads into the United defence and fashioned a number of half chances within the opening period. That Drogheda failed to heed the warning leaves them with no one to blame but themselves for the mix-up that led to King’s opener after fifteen minutes.
The impressive Pat McWalter played a superb cross into the heart of the Drogheda defence that neither Graham Gartland or Joe Kendrick were able to deal with, allowing King to scrappily finish.
The Drogheda defense claimed the UCD midfielder had handballed before bundling the ball home from the edge of the area, but the luck that has deserted the Students in recent weeks returned, with referee Derek Tomney showing no hesitation in awarding the goal.
This gave the champions the wake up call they needed and for the rest of the half, the majority of clear cut chances fell to the visitors.
After 30 minutes, neat interplay between former Bohemians striker, Paul Keegan and Zayed played the latter in, only for him to harmlessly direct his half volley wide of goalkeeper Gregg’s post.
The pressure continued when minutes later a beautiful touch from Zayed teed up captain Shane Robinson but he too failed to take advantage of the opportunity, unable to get his shot on target.
Just before half time, UCD should perhaps have doubled their lead with another cross. This time a corner from Shane Duggan caused problems in the Drogs’ defense but centre back, Alan McNally, failed to show the necessary composure when presented with a free header, only to watch the ball fly over the bar.
UCD’s profligacy could and perhaps should have been punished in the second half, and perhaps were it not for heroics from Matt Gregg between the sticks, continuing his fine recent run of form, the three points may have been squandered.
A brilliant save deprived Drogheda of an equaliser early in the half after Ollie Cahill unleashed a fine shot that seemed destined to nestle in the bottom corner. However, the UCD keeper required every inch of his large frame to push the ball onto the post and away to safety to maintain the lead.
As the minutes ticked away, UCD became increasingly nervous and began to invite Drogheda pressure on themselves, rather than continue with the open style that had given them the early lead and provided ample chance to get a second.
This allowed a late chance for Robinson to send his team home with a point, allowing Gregg to save after good play by Ibrahmia Iyane-Thiam to set up the chance.
This result at least gives UCD a fighting chance of retaining their Eircom League status, and the manner of the victory will be all the more pleasing. On the anniversary of the death of Dr Tony O’Reilly, the former manager and embodiment of all associated with the college side, the result was a fitting tribute to the Dr and will hopefully provide a springboard for the Students to build on this result in the coming weeks as the season reaches its business end.
UCD: Gregg; Mahon (Shortall, 62 mins.), Kenna, McNally, Bermingham; King, McFaul (Finn, h/t), Duggan, McWalter; Purcell (Fitzgerald, 90 mins.), Meenan.
Drogheda United: Ewings; Shelley, Maher, Gartland, Kendrick (Ristila, 73 mins.); Baker (Iyane-Thiam, 67 mins.), Keegan, Robinson, Cahill; Zayed, Kuduzovic (Hughes, h/t).
Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin).