Robbie Benson scored a second half equaliser to earn UCD a deserved share of the spoils against Dundalk at a windy Belfield on Friday night.
Following the withdrawal of Monaghan United during the mid-season break UCD found themselves abruptly deposited at the foot of the table and, with Dundalk standing second from bottom in the new league table, this fixture offered a dark vision of who may occupy the relegation play-off spot come October.
UCD, for all their ability to play passing football, lack the bite up front to turn possession into results. Dundalk, on the other hand, with an inexperienced and unimposing roster of players, stand accused of lacking the required quality to compete at this level. Neither side shook off their various criticisms in this game, although a wicked gale did little to help.
As expected the Students bossed the early stages, passing with more fluidity than their visitors, but Liam Burns and Luke Danville coped with anything that came their way at the heart of Dundalk’s defence. Burns snuffed out a potential oppotunity for Chris Mulhall as early as the second minute and was again on hand to deny Mark Langtry in the eleventh.
Cillian Morrison, operating as College’s lone striker, succeeded in getting a shot away moments later, having played a neat one-two on the edge of the Dundalk box, but his effort drifted wide of Ger Hanley’s goal. The next threat on the visitor’s goal saw Hanley pole-axed by one of his own defenders as Danville, executing a crucial tackle on Morrison, slid into his ‘keeper. After some treatment Hanley was called ashore, Peter Cherrie taking his place.
Dundalk made little headway at the other end. Despite the industry of Mark Griffin, and the best attempts of Gary Shanahan and Chris Shields to release him, the young striker found Mick Leahy an immoveable object. What openings there were came from set-pieces, Danville heading Nathan Murphy’s corner wide on 25 minutes.
But ten minutes before half time, and somewhat against the run of play, Dundalk took the lead, Nathan Murphy heading home from Griffin’s cross. It was a rare moment of quality in a game that was yielding itself to the inclement weather, and little else of note occurred before the break.
Nor did the second half see any noteable improvement. Despite lacking any real sense of threat UCD drew level in the 49th minute, Robbie Benson powering home a rebound after Cherrie had done well to block a Mick Leahy header, but the dynamics of the game remained locked in neutral.
Paul Corry had a shot from distance comfortably gathered by Cherrie on 55 minutes and Gary Shanahan volleyed into the arms of UCD’s debutant ‘keeper, John Kelly, three minutes later, but it was all very much more dependant on effort than inspiration.
Paul Walsh, on the right of midfield, and Mark Griffin continued to work like trojans for the Dundalk cause, and Griffin almost received due reward on 69 minutes when his deflected free kick dropped just wide of Kelly’s left hand post. For the Students, their cenrtral midfield trio of Corry, O’Conor and Benson did their best to inject some quality into proceedings, but it was not until the introduction of striker Chris Lyons with 20 minutes remaining that the home side offered anything in the way of a goalmouth threat.
Lyons was played in by Corry on 78 minutes, and succeeded in turning Danville, before shooting tamely at Cherrie. Three minutes later Benson sent Lyons through and this time the striker rounded the Dundalk ‘keeper, but having been forced wide he chose to set up Langtry rather than shoot. Langtry’s effort spun high and wide. Then, with just four minutes left, a superb covering challenge from Eoghan Osborne denied Lyons yet again.
Dundalk might have stolen it late on when Robbie Waters shot wide from distance with ‘keeper Kelly stranded, and Shanahan shot wildly off target having been set up by a courageous run from John Mountney. But a share of the points seemed only fair after an encounter in which neither side shone.
UCD: John Kelly; Mark Langtry, Mick Leahy, David O’Connor, Ciaran Nangle; Chris Mulhall (Hugh Douglas 75), Paul O’Conor, Robbie Benson, Paul Corry, Dean Clarke (Tyrone McNelis 52); Cillian Morrison (Chris Lyons 72).
Subs not used: Ger Barron, James Kavanagh, Barry McCabe, Samir Belhout.
Bookings: Langtry (68).
Dundalk: Ger Hanley (Peter Cherrie 28); Derek Foran, Luke Danville (Conor McDonald 82), Liam Burns, Eoghan Osborne; Paul Walsh, John Mountney, Chris Shields, Nathan Murphy (Robert Waters 59); Mark Griffin, Gary Shanahan.
Subs not used: Dan Cunningham, Peter Thomas, Gerard McSorley, Shane O’Neill.
Bookings: Danville (59), Osborne (71).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Extratime Man of the Match: Robbie Benson (UCD).