Two late goals earned UCD the three points at The Belfield Bowl on Friday night in a game that Bray Wanderers will feel deeply aggrieved not to have taken something from.
It didn’t take UCD long to put the departure of midfielder Paul Corry behind them and, as their former team-mate prepares for life at Sheffield Wednesday, the Students set about the task of continuing their rise away from the foot of the table with some enthusiasm.
Dean Clarke had hooked an early shot over the Bray crossbar before Robbie Benson split the visitor’s defence on ten minutes only to see David McMillan run wide and shoot into the feet of Bray ‘keeper Darren Quigley.
But with just 15 minutes played Daniel Ledwith delivered a corner from the right which was met by the head of Robbie Benson, and as Hugh Douglas looked to get to the loose ball he hit the turf with a thump and referee Neil Doyle pointed to the spot.
Quite what had occurred in the melee was hard to devine but David McMillan could have cared less, stepping up to drill his spot kick low and left, into the corner of the Bray net.
Bray had their chances too and, with the Students playing just three at the back, they regularly found space across the width of their forward line, space that they should perhaps have made more of.
After just five minutes John Mulroy rolled a shot wide when he really should have hit the target having been teed up by Sean Houston. And one minute later Kieran Marty Waters pinged a shot against the UCD after good work from Dean Marshall on the right.
A series of Bray corners around the half hour mark failed to produce an equaliser and six minutes before the break Houston broke through the middle with Mulroy darting into space on his left and Waters doing likewise on his right. Inexplicably Houston chose to shoot, his effort easily blocked away, instead of releasing either of his team-mates.
The second half took on a familiar shape with both teams probing and passing well, though there was little end product to trouble either keeper. At least until just after the hour mark when a deflected shot from Waters gave Bray a corner and a chance to get the big men into the box. The ball was whipped in at pace and headed towards the UCD goal. It looked like the Students were about to clear but Sean Houston arrived to fire a point blank header into the UCD net and draw the sides level.
The Students almost had the perfect reply five minutes later when a Paul O’Conor free kick was headed narrowly wide. But Bray nearly took the lead themselves minutes later as substitute Adam Hanlon put Waters through on goal with the keeper beaten. With only the prone body of Hugh Douglas lying in his way, Waters shot low and hard only to see Douglas somehow manage to stretch out his leg and stop a certain goal.
We had to wait until the 80th minute for the games next clear-cut chance. A UCD corner was cleared and Hanlon raced down the left touchline. A neat interchange with Mulroy saw Hanlon shoot from distance, but McGinley dived to his right to punch the ball away.
This end to end game was waiting for a decisive goal, and it finally came in the 83rd minute. It was always going to take a moment of brilliance or a mistake to separate these evenly matched teams. This goal had both.
A Ledwith corner looked to have been cleared, but Paul O’Conor latched onto the bouncing ball at the edge of the box. His sweetly struck shot looked destined for the top corner, but Darren Quigley somehow managed to palm it onto the post. As the ball spun back off the post, and with Chris Lyons lurking, Quigley somehow clawed the ball into his own net.
Bray pressed for the equaliser but with their defence stretched they were vulnerable on the break. With four minutes to go ‘man of the match’ David McMillan ran onto a clearance and found himself one on one with the keeper. He shaped to shoot, but squared the ball to the in-rushing Chris Lyons who had the simplest of tap-ins into an empty net.
The win for the Students, along with Dundalk’s defeat, will go a long way to securing UCD’s status in the top flight. Bray played their part too and will feel deeply disappointed to have left empty handed. Next up for Martin Russell’s men is another survival battle away to Dundalk, while Bray entertain Reading in a friendly on Sunday before meeting title chasing Drogheda United at the Carlisle Grounds.
UCD: Mark McGinley; Hugh Douglas, Mick Leahy, David O’Connor; Daniel Ledwith, Barry McCabe (James Kavanagh 59), Paul O’Conor, Robbie Benson, Ciaran Nangle; Dean Clarke (Chris Lyons 65), David McMillan.
Subs not used: Ger Barron, Tomas Boyle, Gary Burke, Tyrone McNelis, Samir Belhout.
Bookings: McCabe (45+1), D O’Connor (52).
Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; Dave Webster (Ismahil Akinade 85), Danny O’Connor, Shane O’Connor, Dane Massey; Dean Marshall (Adam Hanlon 63), Kevin O’Connor (Adam Mitchell 90), Dean Zambra, Sean Houston, Kieran Marty Waters; John Mulroy.
Subs not used: Brian Kane, Conor Earley, Daire Doyle, Lee Dixon.
Bookings: K O’Connor (36), Zambra (42), Webster (64).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Extratime Man of the Match: David McMillan (UCD).