UCD AFC 0-2 Dundalk FC
On a night when a Galway United loss gifted the Students another year of top flight football, UCD were dealt a loss of their own in the Belfield Bowl. Sam Geoghegan reports
One victory from their last three matches was needed for UCD to guarantee another year of Premier Division football at the Belfield Bowl. Friday night saw UCD host Dundalk and like UCD, Dundalk were not safe just yet, only needing two points from their final three games.
The visitors managed to secure victory, and therefore another year in the top flight with a hard-fought 2-0 win. Despite their loss, UCD will also remain in the upper echelon of Irish football as Sporting Fingal defeated Galway United 3-1, saving the Students from a relegation battle.
UCD dominated the early stages but were unable to find any sort of breakthrough. The match sprang to life after only eight minutes when an innocuous free-kick for UCD on the touchline incensed the vocal visiting support. At times during the match, it felt as if UCD were playing in Louth, such was the noise reverberating from the Lily-White section of the stand.
Dundalk keeper, Peter Cherrie, was in inspired form especially during a ten-minute spell in the first half. He twice denied striker David McMillan.
Cherrie came to the rescue once again after some fantastic build-up play culminated with Ciaran Kilduff squaring to right winger Chris Mulhall, who could only direct his shot straight at Cherrie.
Against the run of play, the Louth men took the lead. On the half-hour mark, Stephen Maher, who had only just come on a minute earlier, caused problems down the right. Slack defending and poor marking led to Fahrudin Kudozovic tapping into an empty net from close range. Dundalk were beginning to gain the upperhand.
However, their momentum was short lived. On the stroke of half-time, Dundalk defender Gary Breen was shown a straight red card for allegedly throwing an elbow at UCD midfielder Greg Bolger.
UCD emerged from the dressing room after the break ready to overturn the deficit. Two saves by Cherrie again in the opening two minutes suggested that the second half would be all UCD. The Students piled the pressure on throughout the half, with David McMillan coming close on a couple of occasions, only to be thwarted by the away keeper once again.
The bombardment on Dundalk’s goal was constant, yet their well-organised defence would not crack. UCD were forced into speculative long-range efforts as the visitors put everyone behind the ball.
Keith Ward had a shot on goal on the hour mark after a good build-up play, yet his shot was always rising. UCD’s numerical advantage was obvious for everyone to see, but they couldn’t make it count.
With 15 minutes to go, Greg Bolger skipped past the challenge of Dundalk full-back Shaun Kelly and raced down the left pulling the ball back for his fellow central midfielder, Paul Corry. The UCD man took a touch inside the box to take it around the defender before being taken down by Dean Bennett. The referee had no choice but to award the penalty, much to the dismay of the hostile Dundalk support.
Greg Bolger stepped up to take the penalty and equalise for his side. Unfortunately for the hosts, he smashed it straight at Cherrie who tipped it onto the crossbar. The ball then bounced back into the thankful arms of the goalkeeper. The crowd sensed that it was to be UCD’s best opportunity.
Dundalk were hanging on, visibly tired and longing for the full-time whistle. The Students would not relent. Chris Mulhall demonstrated impressive technique to volley a cross which had goal written all over it, only to be blocked by a defender. This was to prove UCD’s last chance of note.
Dundalk wrapped up all three points in the 85th minute when goalkeeper Billy Brennan made a mess of a routine back pass to allow substitute Johnny Breen to put the visitors two goals ahead. Fittingly, Breen and his teammates celebrated in front of their passionate travelling fans.
UCD’s four-match unbeaten run came to an end, yet manager Martin Russell must be congratulated for securing their safety from relegation with two games to go – a disappointing result then, but an excellent season.
The Students’ penultimate league match sees them take on third-placed Sligo Rovers in the Belfield Bowl this Friday in what will no doubt be a welcome break from the pressures of battling relegation.