Andrew Dempsey reports from City Calling Stadium
A positive second half display from Longford Town saw them claw back First Division champions UCD at City Calling Stadium in an entertaining two-all draw at the Strokestown Road venue.
UCD emerged out of the traps quicker and raced into a two-goal lead courtesy of Daire O’Connor and Yoyo Mahdy strikes.
Town rallied in the second half and eventually clawed back their first-half deficit thanks to an inspired performance from on-loan Shamrock Rovers forward Dean Dillon as he rescued a late point for Neale Fenn’s stretched Longford Town.
The Students almost grabbed an early lead after young striker Mahdy latched onto a loose Daniel O’Reilly back-pass, but goalkeeper Michael Kelly spared O’Reilly’s blushes by closing the angle on the Galwegian.
Soon after their early scare, the Red and Black of the Midlands created a half-chance of their own through the talismanic Dean Zambra who found the physical presence of Jamie Doyle who flashed wide from the edge of the UCD box.
However, Collie O’Neill’s recently crowned champions upped the ante from that moment on as Gary O’Neill forced a smart save from Kelly in the Longford goal after some good interplay with Jason McClelland on the UCD left-hand side.
As UCD probed they looked increasingly threatening in attacking areas as Longford Town were punished for their slack defending with Daire O’Connor sneaking home a long-range strike in the 18th minute.
It was a comical series of events that led to the Students opener as Kelly failed to clear a routine ball in from Gary O’Neill. The ball then rolled out to the path of O’Connor who saw his low effort creep under the palms of the big Longford netminder.
The champions sensed blood from that moment on and they grabbed a deserved second goal of the game thanks to a wonderfully worked Yoyo Mahdy goal just before the half-hour mark.
Mahdy, released by the ever-impressive McClelland slotted the ball past a despairing Kelly in the Longford goal as the 20-year-old ended De Town’s already slim chance of making the First Division Playoffs.
In truth, UCD could have easily added to their lead had it not been for some last-ditch defending from Daniel O’Reilly and co. in the heart of the Longford defence as Gary O’Neill went mightily close just moments before the break.
Reeling from their first-half no-show, Neale Fenn produced a reaction from his youthful Longford Town side in the second half as he soon saw his side halve the deficit just before the hour mark.
After some industrious work from Town hitman Jamie Doyle, the former Shelbourne attacking outlet released Dean Dillon with a superbly weighted ball to reduce the arrears as the on-loan Shamrock Rovers star finished with a low strike.
Buoyed on by the crowd and the improved performances on the pitch, Fenn’s side finally began strutting their stuff on the City Calling Stadium pitch as the influence of Dylan McGlade grew more and more as the half progressed.
Just minutes after Town’s opener, McGlade and the recently introduced Jackson Ryan went close with two good half-chances as UCD just about survived a Red and Black onslaught.
With the initiative firmly with the hosts, that man McGlade went close once more as he saw his well-timed half-volley crash against Gavin Sheridan’s cross-bar in the Students goal after a great ball in from Shane Elworthy on Longford’s right-hand side.
With time looking to be running out, Karl Chambers manufactured another golden opportunity for the Town as McGlade was unable to send his header either side of Sheridan in the UCD goal.
However, Town’s intense series of pressure finally paid off late on as Man of the Match Dean Dillon nodded home a late equaliser for Neale Fenn’s side in the 87th minute as the Students were unable to deal with an in-swinging McGlade corner kick.
Incredibly, Longford had an opportunity to win it at the death, but Jackson Ryan’s low drive just went wide of the UCD goal as a much-changed First Division champions held out for a fair point at the Strokestown Road venue.
The result brought an end to Longford Town’s slim chance of making the playoffs while several UCD fringe players brought their case forward for a spot in next weekend’s FAI Cup semi-final in Oriel Park against Dundalk.
Longford Town: Michael Kelly; Shane Elworthy, Tristan Noack-Hofmann, Daniel O’Reilly, Michael McDonnell; Dean Zambra, Dean Dillon, Aodh Dervin, Karl Chambers, Dylan McGlade; Jamie Doyle (Jackson Ryan, 61).
Subs not used: Ben Kelly, Evan O’Connor, Tumelo Tlou, Warren Mitchell.
Booked: Dylan McGlade (72), Daniel O’Reilly (82).
Sent Off: None.
UCD: Gavin Sheridan; Dan Tobin (Darragh Corcoran, 76), Paul Doyle, Evan Farrell, Josh Collins; Greg Sloggett, Gary O’Neill, Kevin Coffey, Daire O’Connor (Conor Crowley,72), Jason McClelland (Neil Farrugia, 68); Yoyo Mahdy.
Subs not used: Conor Kearns, Timmy Molloy, Neil Farrugia, Conor Davis.
Referee: Eoghan O’Shea.
Attendance: 450 (Estimate).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Dean Dillon (Longford Town).