Not even the weather could dampen this firecracker of a game at Belfield Bowl tonight, as Stevenage FC ultimately emerged from this seven goal thriller as winners thanks to a late Greg Tansey free-kick.
A penalty, a top-drawer free kick, a wonder-goal and a piece of individual brilliance were all to be witnessed in Dublin 4 by the lucky few as Gary Smith’s men continued their preparation for the new League One season in England. UCD for their part were not their recent goal-shy selves as a competitive but good natured friendly unravelled in The Bowl.
The deadlock was broken as early as the seventh minute as the Students conceded what was in truth a soft goal. Good work from Filipe Morais down the right saw the former Chelsea youth cross the ball into the box to an unchallenged Marcus Haber who saw his close range header ripple the home net.
Minutes later and it was almost two. New signing Morais again received the ball on the right and this time sent his cross to the far post. The ball initially seemed to have been over-hit, but in came Luke Freeman with a fierce volley that was stopped on the line by Mark McGinley.
The visitors were beginning to take charge now, with the majority of the game played in the UCD half.
Not ones to panic however, Martin Russell’s men continued to grind away and build from the back and eventually pulled level in the 41st minute – and what a goal it was. Paul Corry collected the ball outside the Stevenage box, and without hesitation let fly with his right foot. With a slight curl, his shot bent away from the despairing Steve Arnold whose fingertips could only further direct the already top-corner-bound effort into the postage-stamp-area of the goal to send the teams in level at the break. This was a wonder goal of the highest order that drew applause from both sets of fans.
The second half saw the introduction of the obligatory substitutions and it was two of these who would have an immediate impact for the Students. Stevenage had thought they had cleared a UCD attack, only for substitute Sean Russell to be released down the right wing. He raced into the box only to be taken down, and Tom Connolly was left with no option but to point to the spot. Up stepped recent signing Dave McMillan to blast the ball down the middle, cannoning off the crossbar for dramatic effect, to give the home side a 49th minute lead.
The game was then to mimic the weather with a downpour of goals between the 71st and 75th minutes.
Stevenage first drew level on 71 minutes, as Mark McGinley saw his attempted clearance charged down by Patrick Ageymang. The cannoning ball couldn’t have bounced kinder for Robin Shroot who took control of the ball before beating a UCD defender and rounding McGinley to finish into an empty net. The joy was evident on the Stevenage winger's face as he had minutes earlier curled an effort onto the UCD post.
Parity was to last only 90 seconds however as UCD once again took the lead. This wasn’t the first free kick Danny Ledwith has scored all season, but it was perhaps the most fortunate as, hit from deep, it beat defenders and forwards alike only to find its way past Arnold.
Amazingly they hadn’t finished there! In the 75th minute Stevenage broke with Robin Shroot down the right. With two defenders to beat, he nonchalantly dispatched them with a couple of impressive step-overs to leave himself one and one with McGinley. A touch to the right saw the UCD keeper taken out of the equation and Shroot had the task of rolling the ball into an empty net – albeit from a tight angle.
Both teams pressed, but the decisive goal was to come in the 86th minute. The impressive Ageymang advanced with purpose for the visitors, but a rash tackle from Hugh Douglas on the former Ghanian international saw Connolly award ‘Boro a free kick at the edge of the box. Greg Tansey was calmness personified as he caressed the ball into the top left corner of the goal leaving McGinley rooted to the spot.
So it was to be two victories from two for Gary Smith’s side on their pre-season tour of Ireland. For UCD there was plenty of positives as Martin Russell’s men ahead of Friday night’s trip to Hunky Dory Park. He will be certainly hoping they can carry forward this confidence in front of goal.
UCD: Mark McGinley; James Kavanagh, Hugh Douglas, Tomas Boyle, Ciaran Nangle (Dean Clarke 79); Stephen Doyle (Sean Russell HT), Barry McCabe (Chris Lyons 70), Paul Corry (Paul O’Conor HT), Tyrone McNelis (Danny Ledwith 70); Gary Burke (Jamie Smyth HT), Samir Belhout (Dave McMillan HT).
Subs not used: Niall Corbet (gk), Robbie Benson.
Stevenage FC: Steve Arnold; Miguel Dominguez, Jon Ashton (Bondz N’Gala HT), Mark Roberts (Lee Hills 62), Darius Charles (Matt Ball 62); Anthony Grant, James Dunne (Jess Parsons 62), Felipe Morais (Robin Shroot 30), Greg Tansey, Luke Freeman; Marcus Haber (Patrick Agyemang 62).
Subs not used: Chris Day (gk).
Referee: Tom Connolly.
Attendance: 150 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Robin Shroot – many candidates, but two composed finishes turned the game for Stevenage.