UCD’s unbeaten start to the season came to an end as they fell to a 3-1 defeat against Shelbourne, in a game where all four goals came from set pieces at Tolka Park on Friday evening.
Shelbourne stunned the Students with two headers in quick succession from Kevin O’Connor free kicks, the first converted by Ryan Brennan, and followed up by another from John Ross Wilson less than two minutes later.
UCD hit back before half-time through Harvey O’Brien but a second goal from Brennan shortly after, sent the teams in at 3-1 and ended any potential comeback for the Students.
UCD were making their first visit to Tolka Park since a 2-1 League Cup victory in April 2019 and the stakes were high even at this early stage of the season. The fixture saw the meeting of the top two sides in the First Division and the only two remaining unbeaten teams in the League of Ireland, with UCD needing to avoid defeat to remain within touching distance of Shels.
The Students needed no reminder of the threat of their former talisman Yoyo Mahdy, but they were given one inside the first minute as the Shels striker whipped a dangerous ball across the six -yard box, but Harvey O’Brien got a vital touch to send it around the post.
UCD had their hearts in their mouths once again after five minutes as referee Gavin Colfer blew his whistle when Shane Farrell went down in the box, however, Colfer showed Farrell a yellow card for simulation.
Shels continued their early dominance as Lorcan Healy was forced down to his left- hand side to palm away an acrobatic attempt from Ryan Brennan after he got on the end of a cross from the right wing.
The early pressure eventually payed off as the Reds took the lead on 22 minutes. John Ross Wilson found himself free at the back post and got on the end of Kevin O’Connor’s pinpoint delivery from the right-hand side to head past Healy.
The Students were given no time to recover, as Shels struck again just moments later. Another O’Connor free kick, this time from the left wing, was met by Brennan who headed home to double the home side’s advantage and leave UCD reeling.
The conceding of the second goal seemed to jolt the visitors into action as they threatened the Shelbourne goal for the first time just before the half hour mark as Harvey O’Brien saw his clever flick on sail just over keeper Brendan Clarke’s crossbar after he got on the end of an Evan Weir free kick.
O’Brien was not to miss again, as he reacted quickest to pick up a loose ball from a UCD corner and produced a tidy finish to score his second goal in three games and inspire some hope for a comeback similar to the one that he rounded off against Treaty United earlier in the month.
It was not to be, however, as the Students were undone by set piece for the third time in less than 25 minutes. Ryan Brennan scored his second of the night as he nicked a touch in front of Healy to restore Shels’ two goal cushion from a corner.
Healy looked to have been taken out in the process and was left needing treatment, but the goal stood despite protests from the UCD bench.
The Students would have been more than happy to go in at half time just one goal down, but the consolation of the third was a harsh blow from which they would not recover.
After a breathless end to the first half, Shels were content to sit back as UCD began to dominate possession. The Students were left frustrated, however, as they failed to trouble Clarke’s goal bar a long- range free kick from Weir which the Shels keeper was able to turn round the post.
The game petered out to a Shelbourne victory as UCD’s title hopes suffered a severe blow after an uneventful second half. The only real positive for the Students was the return to action of Evan Osam, who came off the bench to make his first appearance since September.
It was a frustrating night all round for UCD as although they showed little creativity from open play, neither did Shelbourne, which will leave Meyler and his coaching staff wondering what could have been after seeing their side beaten at dead ball situations on three occasions.
UCD will attempt to bounce back with another pivotal game away at Athlone Town next Friday, while Shelbourne will be expecting to continue their unbeaten start at home to Galway United.