Debutant Evan Caffrey was the hero for UCD as they came from behind to beat Wexford 2-1 at the UCD Bowl on Friday evening.
Jack Moylan gave the visitors the lead with an early goal, but a penalty from Colm Whelan and Caffrey’s winner were enough to take all three points despite a valiant Wexford performance.
The fixture seemed a perfect opportunity for a UCD side in a poor run of form to turn things around as they were unbeaten in their previous ten encounters with Wexford stretching back to September 2015 and had scored 14 unanswered goals in the last two meetings of the sides.
Despite these ominous statistics it was Wexford who started off on the front foot, coming close to breaking the deadlock inside the first minute. Jack Doherty powered through the UCD defence and lifted the ball over Lorcan Healy, but Michael Gallagher was alert and in the right position to clear the ball to safety.
Wexford, managed by former UCD assistant coach Ian Ryan, would have been well drilled on the weaknesses of the Students and took the lead after nine minutes. Jack Doherty picked out Jack Moylan with a perfect cross from the right-hand side and Moylan made no mistake in heading past Healy and setting the stage for a potential shock result at the Bowl.
Wexford began to sit deeper after going in front but still looked the more dangerous of the sides on the counter until some ingenuity from Colm Whelan ended their hopes of a clean sheet.
Whelan danced his way into the penalty area and was brought down by a dangling leg in the Wexford defence. He then stepped up to convert the penalty that he had won to level up proceedings on 25 minutes.
It appeared this might have been the catalyst for UCD to take control of the game as Evan Weir rattled the crossbar from distance moments after the restart, but Wexford showed that they weren’t going to crumble as Moylan drew a fantastic reflex save out of Healy from a free kick as the teams went in level at half-time.
It seemed like the Students would continue their resurgence and dominate proceedings after the break but this wasn’t the case as former UCD man Lorcan Fitzgerald came close from another set piece, seeing his low free kick skid just wide.
Paul Doyle came close with a long- range effort of his own but it was the visitors who began to push up the field and look far the more likely side. Karl Fitzsimons found himself in acres of space at the back post but spurned a golden chance, firing over the bar and Doherty became the third Wexford player to come close to scoring a free kick.
Whelan crafted a couple of half chances but yet again UCD lacked the creativity to carve out any clear-cut opportunities.
Wexford continued to threaten up until the 90th minute when Kyle Robinson, scorer of a hat-trick against Athlone last week, ran through on goal but was denied by a fantastic last- ditch block by Sam Todd.
Andy Meyler’s side appeared to be heading for another disappointing result after a lacklustre performance as Liam Kerrigan was forced away from the Wexford penalty area. However, there was to be one last twist as the ball fell to Evan Caffrey, just minutes into his League of Ireland debut, with the substitute producing a sublime finish from the edge of the box cuing wild celebrations from the UCD team and breaking Wexford hearts.
The Students were able to see out the win and Wexford were denied a result at the death for the second week running.
UCD won’t care too much about the unconvincing nature of the win as they keep pace with the teams above them, but it will be a difficult pill to swallow for Wexford who deserved to take home at least a point and probably all three on the run of play.
The Students face a difficult trip to Limerick next week but have the chance to leapfrog third placed Treaty United while Wexford host Cork City.