Late drama at the Belfield Bowl on Saturday night saw UCD take three deserved points. A David McMillan penalty made it 1-0 with just a few minutes left on the clock, though Drogheda United saw an equaliser ruled out by the referee in the dying moments.
The game was still young when the home side forged the first clear opportunity and it came from a set piece on the two minute mark.
A low-flighted corner from Ciaran Nangle found Michael Leahy in the area, but Leahy’s stab with his right foot was cleared off the line by Philip Hand, who had been stationed on the post.
Indeed, the Students had the better of the opening exchanges but struggled to combine solid possession with the dangerous runs from Samir Belhout, David McMillan, Robbie Benson and Chris Mulhall in the final third.
Drogheda had the first opening as Philip Hand and Brian Gannon combined, the latter on the receiving end of a deep cross from Hand, but the finish wasn’t there and UCD goalkeeper Ger Barron could watch the ball go wide.
The chance had a settling effect on the visitors and, from midfield anchor Alan Byrne onwards, they began to pass the ball well, though it was through a set piece that they nearly made a breakthrough on the 20 minute mark.
A Philip Hand corner was met by a rising Derek Prendergast, but the centre-half couldn’t find the target with his header.
Hand was the provider again a few minutes later when he broke down the left and crossed for Peter Hynes just five yards from goal. However, the striker fluffed his chance to put the Drogs ahead.
UCD maintained their crisp passing and Paul O’Conor worked goalkeeper Michael Schlingermann towards the end of the half with two long range efforts in successive minutes, the first comfortably gathered by the Drogheda stopper and the second well wide.
Schlingermann had more trouble a moment later, doing superbly to push a Robbie Benson shot wide. The resulting corner, swung in by Ciaran Nangle, also found Benson, but his looping header went over.
Gary Burke had Schlingermann at full stretch just a minute into the second period, firing from distance and forcing the goalkeeper to push the ball wide.
UCD certainly picked up where they left off after the break, Paul O’Conor feeding David McMillan who was the next to coax a comfortable save from a busy Schlingermann with an effort from a narrow angle.
The tantric teasing Martin Russell’s side practiced in the first half was well and truly abandoned and Gary Burke finally beat Schlingermann with a powerful strike from distance with 55 minutes on the clock, but could only watch as it cracked the upright and went wide.
Against the run of play, a Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien header from a Philip Hand dead ball delivery almost threatened Ger Barron’s goal but the striker’s effort missed the target. But it was a solitary chance and UCD were in control.
That all changed with 15 minutes left to play though, as David O’Connor saw red. A hopeful ball over the UCD defence saw O’Connor racing against Fabio O’Brien. The defender took O’Brien down in a tangle and, deemed to have denied the striker a clear goal chance, was sent for an early bubble bath.
Mick Cooke’s charges pressed in the final stages as they played against ten men and Tiernan Mulvenna looked the most dangerous, catching Ger Barron well out of position to cross for Paul Crowley but the UCD defenders were quick to rush to the goal in place of Barron and clear.
It was UCD who got their deserved reward for a dominant second half display with five minutes left on the clock through a David McMillan penalty. The striker blasted home emphatically from the spot after being taken down in the area by a clumsy Derek Prendergast challenge.
The ball was to cross the line at the other end just two minutes later but any hope of a Drogheda equaliser was ruled out by Maltese referee Trustin Farrugia Cann. After recovering his own fumble, UCD ‘keeper Barron was deemed to have been bundled over with the ball in a goal line scramble.
Drogheda huffed and puffed in the final moments but couldn’t blow the College down, leaving the Students to toast three points they were certainly worthy of.
UCD: Ger Barron; Hugh Douglas, David O’Connor, Michael Leahy, Ciaran Nangle; Chris Mulhall, Robbie Benson, Gary Burke (Mark Langtry, 79), Paul O’Conor, Samir Belhout (Dean Clarke, 68); David McMillan.
Subs not used: Mark McGinley, Barry McCabe, Daniel Ledwith, James Kavanagh, Chris Lyons
Booked: D McMillan (90+3).
Sent off: D O’Connor (74).
Drogheda United: Michael Schlingermann; Brian Gannon, Derek Prendergast, Alan McNally, Philip Hand; John Sullivan (Sean Brennan, 71), Jason Marks, Alan Byrne, Paul Crowley; Declan O’Brien, Peter Hynes (Tiarnan Mulvenna, 58).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Stephen Quigley, John Breen, Connor O’Keefe.
Booked: Hynes (56).
Referee: Trustin Farrugia Cann (Malta).