UCD took a significant step towards the First Division playoffs with a 6-0 hammering of Athlone Town at the UCD Bowl on Friday evening.
A Colm Whelan hat-trick, along with goals from Liam Kerrigan, Adam Lennon and an own goal by Athlone keeper Michael Schlingerman saw the Students back into fourth place and eight points clear of their opponents.
UCD have been a bogey side for Athlone in recent years with the Students looking to go 20 games unbeaten against the Westmeath team in a run stretching back to a 2-1 win for Athlone in March 2015.
It was the Students who threatened first, crafting an opportunity in the first 30 seconds as Colm Whelan, returning from suspension, flicked a header wide from a Paul Doyle cross.
Athlone grew into the game in the following minutes however, as James Doona, their most potent attacking player of evening, turned Evan Osam on the left- hand side, but his pass into the box was just behind Glen McAuley who couldn’t wrap his foot around the ball enough to threaten the UCD goal just before the 10 minute mark.
Derek Daly flashed a free kick just over Lorcan Healy’s crossbar before Doona gave the Students an almighty scare with Athlone’s best chance of the match.
Daly played a clever backheel to Doona who then feinted his way across the UCD box and rifled a low shot that rebounded off the post, inches away from giving the visitors the lead.
Having ridden their luck at one end of the pitch the Students did so at the other just moments later as they took the lead after 24 minutes in fortunate circumstances.
Sam Todd, still donning a head bandage from the injury sustained against Shels last week, rose to meet a corner and saw his looping header drop over Schlingerman, strike the crossbar, and rebound off the keeper to put UCD a goal to the good.
Scoring the opener settled the Students who began to take a firmer grip on proceedings in midfield as dangerous Athlone attacks grew more infrequent as the half progressed.
After a scrappy opening 40 minutes, the game came to life as both sides tried to seize the initiative before the interval.
Kerrigan almost managed to play in Mark Dignam who was let down by his first touch at the last second. At the other end Conor Barry got in behind the Students’ defence and looked sure to get a shot on target but UCD managed to get a block in and turn the ball away for a corner.
Just as it seemed that UCD would be heading into the interval with a one goal advantage, Colm Whelan came up with the goods to deal a hammer blow to Athlone.
Paul Doyle burst through the Athlone midfield with a powerful forward run and played the ball on to Whelan. It looked like the UCD forward had taken one touch too many, but he somehow made space for himself and unleashed a low shot into the bottom corner on 44 minutes.
Whelan nearly had another in similar circumstances seconds later but this time Schlingerman was able to repel his shot and send the teams in at 2-0.
After a poor start from both sides, UCD had taken control of the game as the visitors had faded after a bright opening 20 minutes.
The concession of the second goal so close to half time clearly demoralized Athlone as the second half was an entirely one- sided affair.
The Students came flying out of the blocks with a flurry of chances in the opening minutes of the half as Jack Keaney, Dignam, and Whelan all saw efforts fly wide of the right hand post.
It was clear however, that Athlone were fatiguing, and this collapse would soon open the floodgates for UCD as they scored four times in the space of 17 minutes.
Paul Doyle played a delicate through ball in behind the Athlone defence with Kerrigan’s perfectly timed run leaving him in acres of space. Kerrigan went on to take the ball around Schlingerman and roll it into an empty net, putting the game well beyond the reach of Athlone after 55 minutes.
The Students were far from finished and looked like they could score every time they mounted an attack as Schlingerman was forced make another save from a Verdon shot.
UCD made it four on 64 minutes with a ruthless counter- attack from the edge of their own penalty area. Adam Wixted was dispossessed after an Athlone corner and four UCD players sprang forward opposed by just one defender. Kerrigan and Whelan played a one two around their only obstacle and Whelan took the ball around Schlingerman to score his second of the evening.
The Students continued the demolition job as a fantastic cross by Kerrigan was met with a bullet header from Adam Lennon, as the former Athlone man got himself on the scoresheet with virtually his first touch since being introduced as a substitute.
Whelan added UCD’s sixth and finished off his hat-trick with the final goal of the evening on 72 minutes. Paul Doyle’s attempted header fell to Whelan who was in the right place at the right time to round out a 28 minute hat-trick.
UCD were then content to make changes and back off as they comfortably saw out the game after blitzing the beleaguered Athlone defence. Kurtis Byrne forced Healy into his first save of the night in stoppage time and Verdon was denied by Schlingerman once again as the game ended in a resounding 6-0 win for the Students.
Although it was a complete capitulation by Athlone, UCD looked as dangerous as they have in some time with Whelan and Dignam standing out with their influence in the final third of the pitch.
The Students’ goal haul means they are once again the league’s top scorers and seem to be coming into form at the right time to rubberstamp their playoff spot and put pressure on the teams above them.
UCD will hope to carry their momentum away to Cobh Ramblers next Friday while Athlone will lick their wounds before another difficult test at home to Galway United.