Richard Mullan reports from the Sean Fallon Centre, Showgrounds, Sligo.
Sligo Rovers missed out on a chance to go top of the table this afternoon at the Sean Fallon Centre, the Bit O’ Red suffering a double blow as they lost their unbeaten run in the process.
Evan Caffrey scored the only goal of the game midway through the first half as UCD moved up to 5th and in doing so, became the first team to keep Rovers scoreless this season.
Both sides came into the game as two of the three highest scorers in the league so it was a surprise when the first twenty minutes passed with little incident, a nearby low-flying helicopter the only highlight of an exceptionally even opening period. But within five minutes the away side were celebrating.
Caffrey had the first shot of the game from distance on 22 minutes, and when he lined up a second attempt moments later he was closed down quickly by two home defenders. The UCD playmaker turned to evade both challenges but was caught and brought down just inside the area, referee Damien McGraith immediately signaling for a penalty. It was the correct decision and Caffrey stepped up himself to send James Robinson the wrong way. On the half hour, some neat interplay between striker Samuel Aydola and the excellent Daniel Norris helped create space once more for Caffrey but his shot was too high from 20 yards.
That appeared to stir something in the home side and Rovers took control of the final fifteen minutes of the half. First, Aidan McHale’s deep cross found Kailan Barlow at the back post but his flicked finish was saved by Mark Smith from close range. Then, the resulting corner was swung in by Josh Mulrennan and met by Peter Maguire who planted his header onto the post with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
An early Barlow corner in the second half fell to Ultan O’ Grady but his goalbound shot was blocked as UCD looked to play on the counter. Rovers’ pacey striker Cillian Heaney found shot over from distance on 54 minutes before a ball over the top caused panic at the back for the hosts. Goalkeeper Robinson raced from goal but didn’t get a strong connection on his clearance and it fell to UCD midfielder Matthew Scott 40 yards from goal. His clipped effort sailed over Robinson but Maguire got back to spectacularly clear from under his own crossbar.
The game was now wide open as Barlow worked some magic down the UCD left and crossed invitingly for Mulrennan whose shot was blocked on the line by Smith, the ball spilled to Eanna Clancy at a tight angle but his drilled rebound was this time brilliantly tipped over by Smith. From the corner UCD broke quickly and Aydola worked a yard before shooting over when he had a teammate better placed.
A couple of substitutions for both sides followed on the hour, along with a lengthy stoppage for an injury to Rovers top scorer Mulrennan, and the game slowed down again. It was also around this time that the visitors ‘keeper Smith seemingly began to develop a crush on the ball as he became increasingly reluctant to let it out of his sight. The frustration of Rovers players was evident and the foul count started to grow on both sides, McGraith booking three players in quick succession.
Norris danced inside two defenders and had a tremendous shot from wide of the left well saved for UCD with ten minutes to go but the game had already begun to drift away and the final twenty minutes mimicked the opening twenty in terms of goalmouth action.
UCD close their gap to the top to three points as Rovers slip to third, one point adrift of new leaders Derry City.
Sligo Rovers: James Robinson; Darragh Reilly, Darragh Ellison, Peter Maguire, Jason Devanney; Eanna Clancy, Ultan O’ Grady; Aidan McHale, Kailan Barlow, Josh Mulrennan; Cillian Heaney
UCD: Mark Smith; David Mooney, Eric Yoro, Isaac Akinsete, Ciaran Behan; Matthew Scott, Malachi Harney; Cormac Rafferty, Evan Caffrey, Daniel Norris; Samuel Aydola