Andrew Dempsey reports from the UCD Bowl
Bray Wanderers copper-fastened their title credentials on Friday evening with a galvanising 3-1 win away to UCD.
The Seagulls took a first-half lead through Gary Shaw in the third minute, but they were pegged back three minutes before the break after Colm Whelan’s twelfth league goal of the season.
However, the Students struggled in the second-half and were punished following goals from both sub Darragh Lynch and Man of the Match Dylan Barnett.
The Seagulls have now gone two points clear at the top of the table with just three league games to play while UCD remain in fourth spot ahead of Cabinteely on goal difference.
Bray began the game as the better of the two sides, and they took a third minute lead thanks to the boot of Gary Shaw.
Shaw got on the end of an excellent cross from Barnett to send the ball beneath the legs of UCD keeper Lorcan Healy to give Bray an early advantage.
And they ought to have made it two moments after, but Joe Doyle could only see his shot on the turn crash off the post.
The former Cabinteely forward did well to manoeuvre some space for himself in the UCD penalty area after, yet another Barnett cross caused mayhem in the Students defence.
Luka Lovic went close for the Seagulls after ten minutes after he latched onto a loose pass in the middle of the UCD midfield, but he shot straight at Healy.
College however grew into the game after a slow start, and they went close to equalising through Paul Doyle, but his effort was deflected wide by a Bray defender.
And they went close to levelling in the 25th minute as both Colm Whelan and Yoyo Mahdy were denied by Bray Wanderers keeper Brian Maher.
Whelan first went close as his shot was saved by the Ireland under-19 keeper before the ball popped up to Mahdy who saw his header tipped away from danger by the outstretched arm of Maher.
In the 34th minute, just before his injury forced withdrawal, Shaw forced a top class save from Healy after the ex-Shamrock Rovers striker got on the end of Joe Doyle’s through ball.
However, the Students were the better team as the half progressed, and they were rewarded for their efforts just three minutes before the break as Whelan levelled.
Whelan picked up the ball inside the Bray penalty area, before his first effort was smothered by Maher.
However, the ex-Waterford under-19 had another bit at the cherry where he made no mistake to level the game heading into the break.
Despite falling away in a sense in the first-half, Bray once came out of the traps quickest and retook the lead through sub Darragh Lynch.
Lynch got on the end of Barnett’s free-kick to fire home past the UCD keeper as Cronin’s young guns reacted well to seeing their lead taken away.
They may have had a penalty for what looked like a late tackle on the lively Lynch minutes later, but referee Ray Matthews waved away the protests.
But just minutes later, the Bray Wanderers frustrations turned into elation in the 61st minute as Barnett finally got the goal his play deserved.
The former Waterford full-back saw his low curling free-kick nestle in the bottom corner of the UCD net.
The Students never threw in the towel to their credit, and they may have halved the deficit with just under a quarter of an hour to play, but Maher saved well from Whelan’s low shot on goal.
The Seagulls however did well to close out the contest as the game entered its final moments – with sub Derek Daly seeing his long-range shot fly over the UCD crossbar.
The result sees Bray retake their two-point lead at the summit of the First Division table following Drogheda’s shock home defeat to Athlone Town.
UCD: Lorcan Healy; Luke Boore, Jack Keaney, Harry McEvoy (Danu Kinsella Bishop 82); Mark Dignam (Adam Verdon 65), Paul Doyle, Liam Kerrigan, Michael Gallagher, Evan Weir; Yousef Mahdy, Colm Whelan.
Subs not used: Isaac Akinsete, Josh Collins, Evan Farrell, Michael O'Keane, Eoghan O'Sullivan.
Booked: Paul Doyle (32), Jack Keaney (60), Luke Boore (86).
Sent off: None.
Bray Wanderers: Brian Maher; Dylan Barnett, Kilian Cantwell, Aaron Barry, John Ross Wilson; Ryan Graydon (Jack Watson 77), Luka Lovic, Sean McEvoy (Paul Keegan, ), Callum Thompson (Derek Daly 82); Joe Doyle, Gary Shaw (Darragh Lynch 36).
Subs not used: Adam Hayden, Marlon Marishta, Tristan Noack Hofmann.
Booked: Darragh Lynch (44) ,Aaron Barry (63).
Sent off: None.
Referee: Ray Matthews
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: Dylan Barnett (Bray Wanderers).