UCD AFC Secure First Home Win Of 2024 Season With 3-0 Win Over Athlone Town

Image Credit: Oisin Gaffey at The UCD Bowl

Sports Editor Oisin Gaffey reports from the UCD Bowl as The Students record their first home win of the season with an impressive 3-0 win over Athlone Town.

UCD AFC recorded their first Home win of the season with an impressive 3-0 win over Athlone Town tonight in The UCD Bowl. Following a poor run of three losses in a row, the students responded brilliantly to pick up all three points in tonight’s game.

It was the most positive first-half performance for the students in recent memory, as they played with a purpose, speed and ruthlessness that has been lacking in the early stages of this season. The students settled into their rhythm quickly and looked to bounce back tonight after a poor showing against Wexford last week. 

Contrary to the previous two home games this season, it was the student who dominated the early possession and looked to put the visitors to the sword from the get-go. The early spells of the half leant themself to the speedy Daniel Norris on the left wing, and the effortless dribbler Ciaran Behan on the opposite flank. 

The students were rewarded for their early pressure as they converted their first shot of the game through the left boot of Behan. The hard-working winger was assisted by left-back Adam Wells who picked up the ball just inside the Athlone half, driving towards goal. Nutmegging a defender in the process, Wells powered down the left flank and found Behan who had wandered in off his wing. With time and space, Behan’s eyes lit up as he set his sights on the bottom left corner, striking with his favoured left foot, beating Enda Minogue down to his right. 

The early goal was no less than The Students’ deserved, for they were much the better side in the opening exchanges. 

Ten minutes later the students, through the right boot of Mikey Raggett, doubled their advantage over the visitors to take a commanding position early in this game. The build-up play for Raggett’s goal will have been particularly pleasing for Willie O’Connor and his coaching staff, with four players combining beautifully before Raggett’s strike found the bottom right corner. 

The move began again with the fancy footwork of Adam Wells, running rings around his opposite number. Wells combined with centre-forward Jake Doyle who fell off his defender to lay the ball off to goalscorer Behan. With a soft touch, Behan teed up Raggett, who still had plenty of work to do. Without thinking, the striker put his laces through the ball and the ball powered towards Minogue in the Athlone net. The goalkeeper will have felt he could have done better with the situation, getting a hand to the ball, but it slipped under his grasp and trickled into the back of the net.

Raggett, along with several teammates, looked relieved to have scored the goal, a nod to the frustration the team has felt over the past number of weeks.

The visitors found themselves two goals down within twenty minutes, and their frustrations were mounting. A bad half got worse in the 36th minute when Dylan Hand was shown a straight red card for a chop tackle on Raggett, who would have been through on goal were it not for the former’s late lunge. Played in by an excellent ball from captain Eanna Clancy, Hand was unable to win the ball in the air and Raggett was through on goal. Hand felt he had no other option but to ground the UCD striker, and faced the consequence of a straight red card.

The visitors faced an uphill battle as they went into the dressing rooms for half-time two goals down and with a man sent off. It was a despondent opening half for the visitors, but credit must go to the students for putting them under such fierce early pressure. 

The students will have been most happy with their attacking play, finding a ruthless streak within them to convert their chances, a theme that has been lacking in recent weeks. Without the midfield duo of Sean Brennan or Michael McCullagh, there were fears on how the UCD midfield would flow, but there seemed to be no issues tonight as Donal Higgins and Daniel Norris were the real bright sparks for UCD.

As a response to the sending off, Athlone manager Dario Castelo made three substitutions at half-time, reinvigorating his side who looked significantly poor in the opening 45 minutes. These changes sparked some life into the visitors’ play, as they wrestled back some control in this game. Daniel McKenna made an instant impact for the visitors, as he was shown a yellow card just seconds after coming on for a poor tackle on UCD’s Adam Verdon.

On the flip-side, the students came out for the second half looking to protect their 2-0 lead, rather than push on with their man-advantage. This was a disappointing sight to see given their dominance in the opening half, and it took until the 80th minute for manager Willie O’Connor to make a single substitution. This was an interesting decision from the manager, as it was obvious the students were struggling against the fresh Athlone players.

The students tempted fate on a number of occasions, Harry Curtis and Donal Higgins coughing up possession well-inside their own half. Luckily for the home side, Athlone were unable to counter attack effectively and take advantage of their advanced field position.

With 70 minutes on the clock, it was the visitors who were in the ascendancy, dominating possession and territory, leaving the students protecting a risky 2-0 lead. A goal looked like a serious possibility and would have changed the game, but the students defended resolutely to their credit.

Whenever UCD won back possession, the electric Daniel Norris was often used as an outlet to relieve the pressure. He and Jake Doyle worked tirelessly to operate as pressure relievers, to great effect. Norris was eventually withdrawn in the 87th minute after a seismic shift, and was received by a chorus of applause from the UCD faithful.

With 89 minutes on the clock, the students’ counter attacked clinically to finish off this game as a contest. Substitute H. Parker did well to keep a bouncing ball in play down the left wing and play in his teammate Colin Bolton down the left wing. The visitors had committed numbers in attack and were light at the back. Bolton capitalised on this and squared the ball perfectly to Jake Doyle on the edge of the 18-yard box. With all the time in the world, Doyle calmly powered the ball past Minogue in the Athlone net to extend the students’ lead to three on the night. Doyle has been excellent tonight, and gets the reward for his efforts. 

The students executed their game plan to perfection tonight, and took all three points as we headed into Paddy’s day weekend. Their tactic to hold on to their 2-0 lead at times looked questionable, but it paid off in the end as they secured their first clean sheet of the season and were clinical in front of goal.

Full Time: UCD AFC 3-0 Athlone Town 

Team Lineups:

UCD AFC: K. Moore, A. Dunne, A. Wells, E. Clancy (C), M. Raggett (C. Bolton 80’), C. Behan, D. Norris, D. Higgins, H. Curtis, A. Verdon, J. Doyle.

Substitutes: D. Kavanagh, H. O’Brien, N. Holohan, C. Bolton, D. Kinsella Bishop, R. McBrearty, H. Parker, S. Mohan

Athlone Town: E. Minogue, G. Fuentes Rodriguez, J. Jones, D. Hand, A. Connolly (C), D. Ebbe, D. Gavin (D. McKenna 46’), C. Mujaguzi (Ruben Candal 46’), A. Oakley (B. Torre 46’), O. Duffy, G. Tetteh (J. Ibrahim 62’).

Substitutes: A. Stuart Trainor, D. McKenna, Ruben Candal, S. Forbes, J. Ibrahim, D. Izekor, B. Torre, M. Leal, Abdul Barrie 

Referee: Alan Patchell

1st Assistant: Darren Corcoran

2nd Assistant: David Connolly

4th Official: Declan Toland