UCD triumph over Dundalk in an anticipated return to form, reports Gordon O’Callaghan
UCD AFC continued their fine recent home form with a comprehensive win over Dundalk on Friday night. The Students sealed what is now their forth home win in a row, comprehensively winning 3-0.
The game began as a cagey affair with neither team able to stamp their authority on the early exchanges. Loose passing and aggressive pressing from both midfields meant that it was not until the sixteenth minute that a shot on goal was registered.
Eventually UCD’s midfield partnership of Paul Corry and Paul O’Conor began to marshal control of the middle of the park, nullifying the threat of Greg Bolger and Keith Ward, the latter of whom was almost completely anonymous for the entire match.
Corry and O’Conor’s ability to control possession in middle of the park and dictate the tempo of the game allowed UCD’s wide men, Darren Meenan and Dean Marshall, plenty of time on the ball. The pair often found themselves in dangerous positions in the opening quarter, but failed to deliver the final ball that was needed.
Instead it was to be defender David O’Conor who would find the key to the Dundalk defence on thirty-five minutes. Dean Marshall wiped in a delightful in-swinging corner from the left hand side, O’Connor timed his run to perfection and powered the header home, past a stranded Paul Murphy.
Ian Foster’s side never looked like they would rally after the goal, instead spending the final ten minutes of the half hoofing the ball forward to an isolated and often disinterested Jason Byrne.
Stephen Doyle, playing as lone striker, pressed the two centre backs all night and willingly ran the channels to open up space for Graham Rusk; in fact, it was Doyle’s hard running that sealed the win for the students in the thirty-ninth minute.
Doyle challenging for the ball in the middle of the park created an opportunity for Marshall to break down the right, he fed to Douglas and the rampaging full back dragged the covering defenders across the pitch, leaving Paul O’Conor in plenty of space. Douglas found him with a fine through ball and O’Conor simply applied the finishing touches with a low strike to the left.
Two goals up at halftime and with UCD dominating in almost every area of the park, the game was as good as over.
The intensity of the Students’ performance waned in the second half. The torrential rain, along with Dundalk offering little and seeming resigned to a loss, sapped the energy from UCD and their fans.
UCD manager Martin Russell attempted to amend the waning atmosphere in the Bowl by introducing fresh legs with fifteen minutes gone in the second-half.
The dynamic Chris Lyons replaced Stephen Doyle, with his pace adding a much-needed boost to the game. It was substitute Dean Clarke who would have the biggest impact on the half however, coming in for Dean Marshall in the seventieth minute.
The young winger, a late inclusion in the squad after Tomas Boyle withdrew with an injury during the warm-up, took his unexpected opportunity with aplomb. In the space of five minutes he used his pace to reach the byline and dragged a low square ball across the face of the goal for Chris Lyons to tap into an empty net.
UCD continued to press the opposition high up the pitch, as Dundalk saw out the rest of the game without even threatening to attack.
UCD have on occasions this season played naïve football, but their first half performance in particular was an assured and mature display, a far cry from the Bray match last week. With Ireland U19’s manager Paul Doolin watching from the stands, some of UCD’s emerging talent stepped up, and could be in line for a call up to the squad.
Yet Martin Russell will be focusing all of his attention on St Patrick’s Athletic on Monday night. Pete Mahon, a familiar face around the Belfield Bowl, will have his side pumped up for what could be a defining game in their league season.
With Derry City drawing at home to Bray Wanderers, the Inchicore side remains in contention for the league title, but will have to compete with UCD’s impressive home record first.
McKinley, Douglas, O’Connor, Leahy, Ledwith, O’Conor, Marshall (Clarke 70 mins), Corry, Doyle (Lyons 60 mins), Rusk (McCabe 81 mins), Meenan.
Murphy, Madden, McHugh, Breen, C. Byrne, Gaynor, Bolger, McDonnell, N. Murphy, Ward, J. Byrne