Date: 7:45 p.m. Oct. 1, 2010
Venue: The UCD Bowl
This game should not have been nearly as thrilling as it was. In fact it should have been a no-brainer as Shamrock Rovers, sitting six points clear at the top of the table, were widely expected to wrap up another three points with a minimum of fuss.
Rovers have already won twice at Belfield this season and UCD, after a promising start, have found themselves struggling to avoid the relegation play-offs. But football is rarely that simple and so it proved here.
The game opened slowly with both sides driving long balls towards their forward lines and the midfield play that survived was generally squandered through poorly placed passes and a general lack of cohesion.
Chris Turner was the first to be offered a genuine opportunity when he met a cross from the left by Thomas Stewart on eleven minutes and headed some distance over the bar. Craig Sives came a good deal closer two minutes later when he pounded a Stephen Bradley corner just inches too high.
The visitors were beginning to look the more threatening as Neale Fenn started to find the pace of the game, dropping smart balls into dangerous areas. Meanwhile, the Student’s playmaker, Greg Bolger was struggling to make his passes count.
As the pressure increased on the home defence they started to make mistakes and with 19 minutes played Michael Leahy was caught in possession and Gary Twigg raced off with the stolen ball. His swinging cross was cleared by Sean Russell but it was a lesson that UCD declined to take on board.
Just one minute later an attempted clearance was intercepted by Fenn and his cross was clipped inside the far post by the forehead of Gary Twigg. It looked as if the pre-match script might now be played out but just two minutes after going behind the students nearly drew level.
A long free kick dropped into the Rovers box and David McMillan was the man who jumped highest. The second ball fell to Ciaran Kilduff and, with what looked like a swinging knee, he sent the ball goalwards where Danny Murphy was on hand to clear off the line.
But that was just a rehearsal. With 33 minutes on the clock the home side equalised. Paul Corry rode a heavy tackle on the edge of the box and played a neat one-two with Bolger. Still under pressure he shot from just inside the box, but a partial block deflected the ball into the path of Kilduff who was lurking behind the defensive line. Shouts for off-side were rightly ignored and with time and space at his disposal the striker steered a low ball past Alan Manus.
Rovers had three chances to restore their lead before the break but Billy Brennan saved well from Twigg and crosses from the right by Paddy Kavanagh and then Turner arrived at UCD’s back post without finding any takers.
The second half began with a double substitution by the students. Robbie Creevy came on for the disappointing Karl Moore and Brian Shortall replaced manager’s son, Sean Russell, at left back. Still the expectation was that Shamrock Rovers would step forward to grab the spoils and within three minutes they had come close to retaking the lead.
Fenn stepped aside as a ball came into the box from the right flank and Twigg flashed a shot towards goal. Brennan flung himself at it and, at full stretch, palmed the ball around the post. Four minutes later Brennan came to the rescue again, rushing out to deny Twigg by diving bravely at the Scotsman’s feet. Thomas Stewart blazed the rebound high over the crossbar.
At this point UCD made their third substitution, Keith Ward coming on for Chris Mulhall, and the home side began to enjoy some forward momentum. On 59 minutes a cross from Shortall on the left was superbly chested down by Kilduff to Robbie Creevy who snapped a volley over Manus’ bar.
Rovers responded with a delightful move that ended with Twigg slipping a ball to his left for Stewart who, once more, shot high over the advancing Brennan. But it was UCD who now looked the more threatening. Manus turned a David McMillan shot around his post and a Bolger free kick caused consternation at the back post, where Danny Murphy had to be at his acrobatic best to clear from Creevy.
But finally a breakthrough came. In the 64th minute a Keith Ward corner was won by Evan McMillan and with Alan Manus out of his goal the dropping ball was poked home by Shortall. It was time for the visitors to make changes and Billy Dennehy and Robert Bayly entered the fray, Paddy Kavanagh and Stephen Bradley making way.
But UCD held the initiative, Ward and Kilduff both threatening the Rovers goal from distance. Then in the 73rd minute the narrative was wrenched back towards the original script. Rovers broke down the left and Stewart flighted the ball into a crowded penalty area. Neale Fenn was underneath it as it fell and just as it reached his forehead he tumbled over the figure of Evan McMillan.
It seemed little more than a gentle collision but referee, Richie Winter pointed immediately to the spot. There was a good deal of confusion and Greg Bolger was perhaps more confused than most, receiving a yellow card from the Wicklow official before Turner drove the penalty firmly into the roof of the net.
Rovers now enjoyed a period of pressure but the students kept in the hunt as Kilduff scuffed a shot having got on the end of an aggressive run from Shortall and David McMillan delivered a powerful drive inches wide of the goal.
With just four minutes to play the temperature rose dramatically as Craig Sives fouled Shortall on the edge of the box. There was a small scene as frustrations were released, but Robert Bayly unwisely got involved to the point where Winter saw fit to show a straight red card to the Rovers midfielder.
And things were about to get a whole lot worse for the Hoops. When calm had been restored Keith Ward stepped up to the free kick and curled the ball over the wall and inside Alan Manus’ right hand post. It was a magnificent strike and with only three minutes remaining it looked to be the final act. It wasn’t.
Rovers might have plundered an equaliser in the final minute when Billy Dennehy’s free kick at the other end was superbly tipped over by ‘Man of the Match’, Billy Brennan but the very last action of the game was another red card, this time for Danny Murphy who pulled down David McMillan as he scampered down the right wing, drawing the ball ever further from where Rovers needed it to be.
Rovers will live to fight again, notably on Tuesday night when they visit Bohemians, but the honours for this night deservedly went to the underdogs. Surely UCD can’t be relegated after this.
UCD: Billy Brennan; Paul O’Conor, Evan McMillan, Michael Leahy, Sean Russell (Brian Shortall, h-t); Chris Mulhall (Keith Ward, 52), Paul Corry, Greg Bolger, Karl Moore (Robbie Creevy, h-t); David McMillan, Ciaran Kilduff.
?Subs not used: Ger Barron, Killian Morrison.
Bookings: Bolger (73), Shortall (83).
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Manus; Danny Murphy, Craig Sives, Aidan Price, Enda Stevens; Paddy Kavanagh (Billy Dennehy, 64), Stephen Bradley (Robert Bayly, 68), Chris Turner, Thomas Stewart (Stephen Rice, 89); Neale Fenn, Gary Twigg.
?Subs not used: Pat Jennings, Pat Flynn.
Bookings: Murphy (37), Sives (86).
Sendings off: Bayly (86), Murphy (90+2).
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Billy Brennan.