Waterford FC was thrown into turmoil this week with the departure, in very acrimonious circumstances, of their manager Marc Bircham.
Following a very public war of words between Bircham and club owner Richard Forrest, Waterford had been left without a manager as they face into their most important game of the year and attempt to retain their Premier Division status for the 2022 season.
Former Tottenham Hotspur player Ian Hendon has joined the club this week and he along with Dave Bell will be tasked with trying to get Waterford over the line on Friday night at Richmond Park (kick-off 7.45pm).
The promotion play-off final is effectively a cup final, the winners will be in the top flight next season, the losers will be in the First Division.
Whether the turmoil has a galvanising effect or a destabilising effect on the players when they run out onto Richmond Park on Friday night is unclear – what is very clear is that this is not the type of preparation any team would want in advance of such an important game.
Waterford’s perilous position close to the foot of the table is probably due to more off the field problems which they had back in May. They were forced to field an under-19 team (due to Covid 19) against Drogheda and promptly went on to lose 7-0 while a week later they gave a walkover when they were unable to field any team against Sligo Rovers in the following game.
Those six points dropped had a major impact on their season, however their form in their last five games of the season was very poor anyway and they had numerous chances to climb off ninth position but were unable to do so. They were winless in their last five matches and only picked up three points out of a possible fifteen.
In contrast, the other possible contenders for the relegation play offs, Finn Harps, managed to pick up six points out of a possible fifteen from their last five matches and ended up two points ahead of Waterford in eighth place.
UCD have made it all the way to the Premier Division Promotion Play Off Final on the back of solid victories over Treaty United and Bray Wanderers.
They despatched the Limerick side on an aggregate score of 4-2 over the two legs while they overcame Bray Wanderers in the semi-final by 2-0 in Dalymount Park last Friday night, 19 November.
They were very much the stronger side over the course of all three games and apart from a spell in the home game against Treaty United when they went 2-0 down, they always seemed like the most likely side to make it all the way to the final.
They have a very settled starting eleven and also have some very strong players on the bench who can come on and add value at any stage.
Colm Whelan and Liam Kerrigan, Irish under-21 internationals, who were both nominated for the PFAI First Division Player of the Year award this week, garner most of the headlines but in reality, they have a great spread of highly competent players throughout the team.
Evan Osam has been with the club for a number of seasons but having been injury plagued in recent times he is now fully fit and has been outstanding at left back all season.
Jack Keaney joined the club from Sligo Rovers in July 2019 and has been an inspirational captain and midfielder all year and will lead out the side in Richmond Park on Friday night.
Andy Myler’s side head for Richmond Park in great form and will be aiming to make a return to the Premier Division having been relegated from the top flight back in 2019.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
There is no relevant league history to draw on as these two sides did not meet in league competition since 2019, although Waterford did win all three league matches in that season.
The only recent clash between the two sides was in the FAI cup this year and despite their recent off the field problems Waterford will draw some comfort from the fact that they did win the match on a 3-2 score line.
The sides were level at 2-2 in the 90th minute when Prince Mutswunguma struck a late winner to send Waterford into the next round which they subsequently lost 1-0 to Bohemians.
UCD 2-0 Waterford
Waterford 11/10; Draw 9/4; UCD 21/10.
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