David Kent reports from the UCD Bowl as Collie O’Neill’s charges put one hand on the promotion play-off.
IT was a case of the Late Late Show in Belfield on Friday night as UCD put one hand on the First Division play-off thanks to a dramatic 93rd minute goal from Ryan Swan. A cracking encounter with Shelbourne looked to be heading for a 2-2 draw only for Swan to capitalize on a Maxi Kouogun rebound.
Coming into a freezing cold night at the Bowl, the bookmakers were favouring the home side. The Students had just come off the back of a record breaking 8-1 victory against Waterford the previous week and had been turned over just four times in 13 games at their D4 home.
A dire couple of weeks, however, prior to that had seen a seven-point gap to Cobh Ramblers in the race for the play-offs bridged to just one heading into Friday. The Cork side had an easier run in on paper, so UCD needed to avoid defeat against a Shelbourne team with nothing to play for. After a turbulent week for Shels, fans were vocal at the game about the proposed move to Dalymount.
UCD started the stronger, with Cathal Brady causing Michael Kelly a few problems. Daire Doyle saw his low drive skim wide with two minutes gone. It was a warning shot.
With 10 gone, an almighty goalmouth scramble saw UCD denied on three occasions, twice by Jack Brady who inexplicably palmed it backwards from Greg Sloggett’s shot. If not for the feet of Reece McEnteer, the Students would have gone ahead. There wasn’t much in response, Adam Evans shooting from the 18-yard line but the ball ended up going out for a throw.
But the breakthrough came with just under 20 minutes gone. Daire O’Connor was given far too much space in midfield, and his shot was too fierce for Brady to handle. Georgie Kelly made no mistake from six yards for his sixth of the season.
The 19-year-old was nervous and his dilly-dallying on a loose ball almost gifted UCD a second but Gary O’Neill was unable to get his effort on target.
McEnteer was starting to do damage by running at UCD’s right wing, his ball across inches away from the foot of Jamie Doyle.
They were rewarded on the half hour mark. Dylan Kavanagh’s high ball in wasn’t dealt with. It fell to the feet of Evans and he blasted home from just inside the box, the shot flying in with the aid of a deflection.
This seemed to wake up the Tolka side as they had a penalty claim waved away three minutes later. Jamie Doyle was clipped by Tomas Boyle but referee David Keeler adjudged the striker to have dived, much to the chagrin of the sizeable Shelbourne support.
Collie O’Neill was forced to withdraw O’Connor just before half time due to a foot injury. The Students almost had a second when Kelly and Waters combined, the latter’s stinging drive beaten away impressively by Brady. The game opened up as McLelland went close before Evans responded up the other end. The sides would go in level at half time.
Two minutes into the second half though and UCD were back ahead. A corner was whipped in by Waters, Brady got caught in no-man’s land and Liam Scales tapped home at the far post.
Shels were level within five minutes. Great work on the left wing by McEnteer caused Kouogun bother and Dylan Kavanagh slammed home from 12 yards in space. They should have gone ahead moments later when Doyle broke free in space but a shocking second touch let Kouogun back in to clear. Doyle again tested Niall Corbet as Heary’s side started to press.
Sloggett headed straight at Brady from a free header before Carl Walshe brought a superb low save out of Corbet. From the resultant corner Jack Tuite should have given the away side the lead, but could only flick wide from inside the six-yard box.
The game was free flowing with scrambles aplenty. With twenty minutes left Kelly, Brady and Sloggett were all denied by different Shelbourne players on the line.
O’Neill responded by bringing on Ryan Swan and switching to 3-4-3. James English was sprung from the Shels bench and he tested Corbet after beating the offside trap. It was the Reds that dominated the final ten minutes of the game forcing Corbet into save after save.
But in the final minute of added time, the Students stole it. A long ball into the box wasn’t dealt with by the Shels defence and after Maxi Kouogun’s effort was blocked, the ball fell perfectly into Swans path and he drilled it in from six yards.
The result leaves UCD one point ahead of Cobh going into the final weekend. While Cobh are away to Athlone, The Students can decide their own fate with a massive game away to fellow play-off hopefuls Drogheda on Saturday night.
UCD: Corbet, Langtry (Swan 73’), Scales, Kouogun, Boyle, Sloggett, Brady, O’Neill, Kelly (Byrne 88’), O’Connor (McClelland 37’), Waters
Shelbourne: Brady, Shannon, Tuite, McEnteer, Kelly, Walshe (English 75’), D Doyle, Kavanagh, Boyne, J.Doyle, Evans