Stephen Bradley 5' -
Billy Dennehy 43' -
Gary Twigg 63' -
Dan Murray 77' -
This is a worrying time for UCD. A run of seven defeats in their last nine league games has seen them slip into the relegation play-off places and their heartening blend of youth and ambitious football is struggling to pay for its upkeep.
So this re-arranged league encounter with a Shamrock Rovers team that seem to grow in stature with each passing game must have been preceded by a few sleepless nights out Belfield way.
And it took Rovers just five minutes to breach the students defence and usher in fears that this game would be decided with indecent haste. Greg Bolger, having just returned from suspension, was caught napping in the students midfield and it was Stephen Bradley who stole the ball, stepped on ten yards, and guided the ball over Ger Barron and into the net.
It was hard to tell if Rovers deserved their lead, the game having just begun, but they went on to totally dominate a first half in which the visitors were subjected to almost constant pressure. Paul O’Connor tested Alan Manus in the home goal after just eight minutes with a speculative shot from distance but Thomas Stewart, Gary Twigg and Paddy Kavanagh were all denied by concentrated defensive play and Aiden Price and Twigg were both inches away from connecting with lethal balls delivered into the danger area by Billy Dennehy and James Chambers respectively.
The weight of Rovers’ superiority was immense but on 26 minutes it was UCD who fashioned an unlikely equaliser. It was Dan Murray who lost possession and Cillian Kilduff who made him pay; wrestling some space fifteen yards out and striking a ball which deflected horribly off a Rovers leg and over the helpless Alan Manus.
The remaining twenty minutes of the half were almost unfeasibly one sided and it was something of a relief for everyone when the pressure was lanced by another Rover’s goal. Just two minutes before half time Bradley fed a neat ball to Dennehy inside the Rovers half and the young winger set off down the left hand touchline with a determination that took him deep into enemy territory. Twenty five yards from goal and still wide on the left, Dennehy hammered over a cross that rocketed into the far top corner of Ger Barron’s goal.
Half time saw the departure of UCD’s defensive talisman, Evan McMillan; a worrying development for the visitors, and four minutes after the restart there came another blow. Brian Shortall surged into an ill-advised challenge on Dennehy, completely missed the ball, and sent the winger flying. A deserved straight red followed and the beleagured students were down to ten men.
Robbie Creevy came on to shore up the now vacant right back spot, debutant Karl Moore making way. There followed a period when UCD scratched out some half chances but it was always the home side who looked more likely to add to the scoreline.
When the third goal did come it was substitute Neale Fenn who unlocked the visitor’s defence. He clipped a sublime ball through for Dennehy to chase and having initially misread the ball, he recovered to deliver a fine, deep cross which Gary Twigg powered into the net from ten yards.
Two minutes later Dennehy should have made it four when he picked up on a Paul O’Conor error and rolled a shot just past Barron’s near post when he was clean through and really should have scored. Twigg too had an opportunity to add a fourth but superb defending from Andy Boyle denied him.
With 77 minutes played Dennehy turned provided when his cross was met by Twigg. Barron saved well but the rebound was met by the head of Dan Murray and although the ball was thrust downwards off the bar and onto the goal-line, the upwards bounce drifted over the line.
In the remaining minutes, Shamrock Rovers stepped off the gas. Play still flowed mainly towards UCD’s goal and there were some beautiful touches from Rovers sated players, but the sense of threat dissipated as the end drew near.
Dennehy drove a low cross into the box that, had there been a touch, would have provided a fifth, and Twigg lobbed Barron from twenty yards, denied by the narrowest margin of error. But four proved enough for the Hoops and with just nine games left to play they are building up the kind of momentum appears irresistible.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Manus; James Chambers, Dan Murray, Aidan Price, Enda Stevens; Paddy Kavanagh (Neale Fenn, 45), Stephen Rice, Stephen Bradley (Robert Bayly, 78), Billy Dennehy; Gary Twigg, Thomas Stewart (Pat Flynn, 65).
?Subs not used: Pat Jennings, Danny Murphy.
UCD: Ger Barron; Brian Shortall, Evan McMillan (Mick Leahy, 45), Andy Boyle, David O’Connor; Chris Mulhall, Paul O’Conor, Greg Bolger, Keith Ward, Karl Moore (Robbie Creevy, 52); Ciaran Kilduff.
?Subs not used: Billy Brennan, Dwayne Wilson, Graham Rusk.
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Billy Dennehy.