UCD produced an inspired display to move on to the second round of the FAI Cup and hand Shelbourne their first defeat of the season with a 2-0 victory in a pulsating tie at the UCD Bowl on Friday evening.
Second half goals from Colm Whelan and Harvey O’Brien were enough to ensure the win for the Students who were solid the back, securing their first clean sheet in eight games.
UCD made the brighter start with Colm Whelan missing a chance to put his side in front after 10 minutes as he did well to fashion a chance for himself inside the box but could only shoot straight at Shels keeper Brendan Clarke.
Shels retaliated a couple of minutes later with what would turn out to be their best chance of the game. Kevin O’Connor whipped a dangerous cross into the box from the left wing which was cleverly dummied by Michael O’Connor with the ball falling to Shane Farrell who drew an incredible reflex save from Lorcan Healy to tip the ball round the post.
UCD remained on top, however, putting together some intricate moves and free-flowing counter attacks that have been noticeably absent from their league games in recent weeks. Mark Dignam embodied this tenacity, creating half chances for Paul Doyle and Whelan with his clever reading of the play in midfield.
After a promising opening 30 minutes from the Students, Shelbourne eventually began to exert more influence on proceedings. Farrell once again caused the UCD defence problems with his runs in behind but couldn’t test Healy for a second time as he dragged his shot wide.
The set pieces of Kevin O’Connor were Shelbourne’s main attacking threat throughout the game, whose deliveries saw former UCD defender Maxim Kouogon head over the bar twice in a matter of minutes.
The sides went in level at the break after an entertaining first half. UCD enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but the best chance fell to Shels, who were denied only by the heroics of Healy.
After the brief Shelbourne resurgence at the end of the first half, the Students regained control at the beginning of the second and took the lead after 56 minutes.
Whelan, who had just been booked for simulation on the edge of the box, was this time fouled by George Poynton inside it to win a penalty for UCD which he made no mistake in converting, scoring from the spot for the third consecutive game.
The Students resisted the urge to drop back and defend their lead as they kept probing dangerously, however, Shels responded with a penalty shout of their own on 70 minutes.
Evan Weir misjudged the path of the ball to let in Michael O’Connor who went down in the box before getting his shot off, but the contact was not enough for referee David Dunne to award the spot kick.
A major factor in the improved UCD performance was the inclusion of Jack Keaney in midfield instead of defence. The UCD captain’s pressing and distribution gave the Students a foothold in midfield which allowed them to build attacks, typified by Keaney winning possession and moving the ball on to Doyle who curled a low shot just wide of the post from the edge of the box with 73 minutes on the clock.
Shels made a final push for an equaliser inside the last quarter of an hour as Michael Barker came inches away from levelling the game, seeing half-volley was deflected round the post. Aly Gilchrist headed over from the resulting corner and the Students’ defence held firm once again.
Although Shels had looked dangerous from set pieces throughout the match, it was a UCD corner that proved to be the winning goal. Harvey O’Brien, who put in an outstanding display in the UCD backline, got on the end of Doyle’s corner to bury a header past Clarke and seal a memorable win for the Students with his third goal of the season.
Shels substitute Ryan Brennan nearly grabbed a consolation in the dying seconds of injury time as he got on the end of a Barker knockdown and struck the side netting, but the Students held out for a deserved win and ensured their place in the second round draw.
UCD’s crisp passing, intense pressing, and the near perfect performances of Todd, O’Brien, and Osam in defence were key to their supremacy against a team previously unbeaten this season and will surely leave Andy Meyler optimistic that his players can rediscover their form in the league after enduring a difficult period.
The students will hope to keep momentum at Cork City next Friday while Shelbourne will seek to maintain their unbeaten league record at home to Cobh Ramblers.