A Belfield crowd bore witness to a tantalising cup tie between UCD AFC and Waterford FC last night. At stake was a semi-final spot and the chance to enter European competition via the back door. A feat UCD haven’t managed since their Europa league heroics of 2015, when they were amongst the last set of teams to qualify for the Europa league playoffs, through the now defunct UEFA fairplay route.
UCD came into this game having not lost a competitive home game in 8 matches. The impressive students streak included Cup wins against First Division league leaders Shelbourne, and Longford Town, who sit bottom of the Premier Division. UCD’s last 5 matches in all competitions have seen the college bag 19 goals, A testament to their clinical attack, the focal point of which is their in-form, Kilkenny born, striker, Colm Whelan.
Whelan is the top scorer across both of Ireland's top two leagues, with 17 goals. Not one to shy away on the big stage, Whelan scored the equaliser, in Ireland U21’s draw with Luxembourg, after he was called upon from the bench. Defensively however, UCD have struggled as of late conceding 5 in their previous two games and have the worst defensive record out of the top 6 in the premier division.
Waterford traveled to the bowl following narrow defeats on the road against league leaders, Shamrock Rovers and 2nd placed St Patricks Athletic. A number of Waterford’s key players were out injured for this game, exemplified by the fact they only managed to field 5 substitutes. Amongst the long injury list, Eddie Nolan and Anthony Wordsworth, both crucial to the solidity of the Waterford rear guard.
Some silky play led to UCD’s first attack. Mark Dignam back-heeled a breaking ball to Liam Kerrigan, who fired over from distance. The strike attracted jeers from the noisy fans who had travelled to Dublin 4.
UCD dominated the early stages. A long ball over the top of the blues defence, from Keaney, found Kerrigan in the box, marked, he turned and looked for support. He found it in striker Whelan, his shot on the half volley narrowly whizzed past the right hand up right.
Whelan was in luck just moments later however, when he opened the scoring for the students after 10 minutes. Waterford were unable to maintain possession from a throw-in deep in their own half. The ball fell to Whelan on the edge of the box on the right hand side. Whelan coolly beat Greg Halford with an ingenious piece of footwork and fired a low shot into the far corner. UCD 1, Waterford 0.
The Referee awarded a free kick on the edge of the box to UCD just minutes later. Liam Kerrigan gathered the ball and placed it through the legs of Matswunguma who fouled the student's winger. The free kick was fired into the wall.
A long Waterford free kick was the visitors first chance of the match. Lorcan Kelly gathered competently under pressure. Dara Keane was yellow carded for the challenge which led to the free kick.
The game was played with a tenacious ferocity, there was no quarter given in the early stages, and the occasion at times threatened to get the better of both sides. Greg Halford picked up a yellow card for a challenge on Liam Kerrigan, for what was in all honesty a very soft free at best. Kerrigan himself was then added to the referees book for a challenge on Quitrina.
Waterford began to grow into the tie. Niall O’Keefe played a beautiful reverse ball to Martin whose ball across the 6 yard box could not find a Waterford man.
Waterford were awarded a free-kick in a near perfect position on the 30 minute mark. Quitirna turned and ran at pace at the UCD defence before Sam Todd took him to the ground with a wild challenge. Sam Todd became the fourth player booked inside the opening half an hour. The free-kick was fired into the wall.
Waterfords’ Quintra opened the scoring for the blues after Jack Keaney was dispossessed in midfield. His touch let him down on this occasion and the spritely Waterford front line pounced on the breaking ball which was slipped through by Tshimpamba to Quintra who slotted the ball past Healy in the UCD net. UCD 1, Waterford 1.
Waterford missed a golden chance towards the end of the second half. Left Back Evans broke into space and placed a perfectly weighted ball in front of Tshimpamba who fluffed his lines.
An out of control challenge from John Martin on Jack Keane, earned him a place on the now long list in the referees little black book.
At the half-time break, the score remained, one a piece.
The opening of the second half continued in much the same vain as the first. Careless UCD play led to Phoenix Patterson jinking his way into a goalscoring position before he fired over.
Man Of The Match, Liam Kerrigan, added UCD’s second 5 minutes into the second half. Some hard battling from Colm Whelan with the Waterford centre back, Kye Ferguson, saw the number 10 breaking into open field. The u21’s international then selflessly teed up Kerrigan who fired home. UCD 2, Waterford 1.
UCD began to sit back and invited pressure. Phoenix Patterson slalomed through the UCD defence and cut inside. Just before he looked set to shoot, Keaney stepped up with a captains tackle and won a welcome free out for UCD.
Waterford were awarded a penalty in the 65th minute when Sam Todd pulled down Matwunguma under a highball, which had seemed to hover endlessly over the floodlit pitch. Patterson’s spot kick sent keeper Kelly the wrong way. Todd was lucky to avoid a second yellow for the challenge. UCD 2, Waterford 2.
Just moments later John Martin was dispossessed in his own box by UCD’s Paul Doyle. Doyle played the ball across the face of goal to Whelan but Brian Murphy in the Waterford goal scrambled at least 10 yards to pull out a phenomenal save.
UCD were then awarded a penalty in the 72nd minute when substitute Milambo fouled Whelan inside the box. Whelan, however, could not convert the spot kick. A poor penalty, struck low into the corner found the fingertips of Brian Murphy.
UCD offered little in the way of concerted attacking pressure in the closing 20 minutes. Colm Whelan was left to drive past the Waterford defence all on his own from very deep and unlikely positions.
Lorcan Kelly pulled out an absolutely world class save from Matsunguwa. Matsunguwa was teed up just 8 yards from goal after Tshipamba turned on a six pence and left Sam Todd scrambling.
Captain Jack Keaney picked up a yellow after a cynical pull back which stemmed a dangerous Waterford break.
A rarity of the game occured when substitute Milambo was replaced by Jack Stafford. No injury appeared to have been sustained by Milambo, who had looked out of sorts.
Colm Whelan appeared to have been elbowed by Halford off the ball right in front of the referee but was not acknowledged. Moments later Harvey O’Brien was booked for a reckless challenge in midfield as the game once again threatened to descend into chaos
There was late, late, drama when in added time, Matswunguwa scored the winner for Waterford. A ball into the box was neatly tucked past Kelly. UCD players protested vigorously that Whelan was fouled up the other end, but the goal stood.
The game finished, UCD 2, Waterford 3. Without a doubt a spirited performance from the students but not enough to earn a replay against this Waterford side, who have come a long way since the beginning of the season. No doubt UCD and Andy Meyler will rue the missed opportunities and basic mistakes which cost them dearly. Nevertheless, the cup run has provided vital knockout know-how for the potential promotion play-off.
Lorcan Healy; Evan Osam, Jack Keaney, Sam Todd, Jack Keaney (c) , Evan Weir, Harvey O’Brien; Dara Keane, Paul Doyle (Adam Verdon), Liam Kerrigan, Mark Dignam; Colm Whelan.
Substitutes Not Used: Carl Williams, Michael Gallagher, Harry McEvoy, Luke Boore, Eoin Farrell, Evan Cafferey, Donal Higgins, Sean Brennan.
Brian Murphy; Darragh Power, Cameron Evans, Greg Halford, Kye Ferguson, Prince Matswuguma; Armando Quitirna, Niall O'Keeffe, Phoenix Patterson; Isaac Tshipamba (replaced by Jeremie Milambo, replaced again by Jack Stafford), John Martin,
Substitutes Not Used: Matthew Connor, George Forrest, Jamal Dupree.
Match Officials: Referee: Rob Hennessy, Assistant Referees: Darren Corcoran, Eoin Harte.
Fourth Official: Ben Connolly
Man Of The Match: Liam Kerrigan