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This time last week UCD looked in real danger of spending the remainder of the campaign at the bottom of the table, doomed and facing into a relegation play-off. Well what a difference seven days makes as the recording of back-to-back wins for the first time this season moved them off the foot of the division and ahead of Dundalk, who were inactive this weekend.
They made Cork City look like the relegation strugglers on a magnificent evening at the Belfield Bowl as the Leesiders suffered consecutive defeats in a dismal five day turnaround. Indeed Cork could now be dragged into the race for bottom spot such was the simply dreadful showing they produced against the Students.
That UCD’s first two goals came from set-pieces pointed to a lack of defensive organisation rather than sublime deliveries however, as the City back four remained terribly unreliable despite manager Tommy Dunne changing things up with three swaps from the St Patrick’s Athletic defeat on Monday.
The opener arrived from the head of College skipper Mick Leahy and although he directed it in very well, the marking from the central partnership of Dan Murray and Kalen Spillane left a lot to be desired. In the build-up David McMillan had struck the post with a stinging effort that had City keeper Mark McNulty beaten all ends up.
Meanwhile Danny Murphy, the most consistent player in the Leesiders’ squad for many years, was somewhat uncharacteristically given a torrid time by Dean Clarke out wide, with the exciting right-sided player fizzing in several threatening crosses.
That said, the Students played some delightfully free-flowing football, Paul O’Conor dictating the tempo from the middle of the park and Sean Russell causing havoc when in possession. But the star of the show was undoubtedly McMillan. Paul Corry may be on his way to Sheffield Wednesday if rumours within the club are to be believed but in McMillan they have a player who has the potential to carve open any defence.
He was imperious, a beaming ray of sunshine for a team that for too long this season was in the shade. It could, in all honesty, have been much more than 3-1 by the end of the game.
Cork’s Keigan Parker, the Scottish striker with a decorated history cross-channel, did level the game up with a neat flick from over 25 yards in the 22nd minute, the ball looping over the head of the onrushing Mark McGinley and bouncing into the net.
But parity didn’t last long as another corner punished the travelling defence with Hugh Douglas judged to have bundled in from six yards despite fierce pressure from Andy O’Connell, the Cork striker getting a touch to the ball as it went in, with McNulty in two minds over whether to claim the delivery or remain on his line.
Without a shadow of a doubt it was a deserved lead for Martin Russell’s outfit and it became one that they held onto in the most brilliant fashion. They were more composed, played the better football and made sure Cork played second fiddle for far too long.
They started the second period strongly too, McMillan winning a corner in the 49th minute after Clarke found him on the edge of the box, the placed ball once again causing panic within the City ranks as skipper Murray eventually got rid of the danger.
Both threatened from frees in the space of a minute, Russell a foot off target with a curler from 20 yards while Keith Quinn’s effort at the other end saw McGinley concede a corner. McMillan then had the ball in the net following another corner on 62 only for the linesman’s flag to take flight, resulting in a free-out.
UCD did seem to fade for a few minutes at that point and with the travellers enjoying their first established spell of dominance, Murray’s delicate flick towards goal almost saw them level only for McGinley’s reflexes to come to the rescue.
Yet the College burst back into life and the killer goal, arriving after 67, was a moment of attacking brilliance. The outstanding McMillan split Spillane and Murray, laid a beautiful ball off to the lung-bursting run of Robbie Benson and he stroked a magnificent shot off his right peg and into the bottom corner.
By no means were UCD finished though as Danny Ledwith struck a venomous free-kick wide, and even though Daryl Horgan headed just over with seven minutes remaining, Ledwith went close to a fourth only to be denied by a fine McNulty save.
UCD: Mark McGinley; Hugh Douglas, Mick Leahy, David O’Connor, Ciaran Nangle; Dean Clarke, Paul O’Conor, Sean Russell (Gary Burke 82), Barry McCabe (Danny Ledwith 66); David McMillan, Robbie Benson.
Subs not used: Ger Barron, Tomas Boyle, Chris Lyons, Tyrone McNelis, James Kavanagh.
Booked: D McMillan (23), Leahy (56), Douglas (75).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Dunleavy (Keith Quinn 22), Dan Murray, Kalen Spillane, Danny Murphy; Ian Turner, Gearóid Morrissey, Shane Duggan, Daryl Horgan; Andy O’Connell (Davin O’Neill 56), Keigan Parker (Vinny Sullivan 69).
Subs not used: Paul White, Gavin Kavanagh, Kevin Murray, Brian Lenihan.
Booked: D Murphy (54), Sullivan (90+3).
Referee: Rob Rogers.
Attendance: 300 (est)
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: David McMillan (UCD).