Andrew Dempsey reports from the UCD Bowl
UCD stretched their lead at the top of the First Divsion to four points as they played out an entertaining five-goal thriller with Wexford on a fine spring evening at the UCD Bowl.
Gary O’Neill, Georgie Kelly and Jason McClelland scored for the Students, while Aaron Dobbs and Mark Slater were on target for Wexford.
Playing into a dipping sun that was causing havoc for spectators and those in the press box alike, UCD started the game off quick and soon found themselves ahead thanks to an early Jason McClelland strike which sailed past Kealan Gaffney in the Wexford goal.
The goal, which was created by the ever-impressive Daire O’Connor, set the Students on their way to a much-needed win over their opposition from the south-east who quite simply couldn’t deal with the relentless speed of the UCD attack.
After the goal, UCD seized the initiative as the in-form pairing of Kelly and O’Connor both saw rasping efforts smash off committed Wexford bodies that were on a mission to try and stem the flow of attacks emanating from the UCD engine room of O’Neill and Greg Sloggett.
And after a spell of intense pressure, Wexford cracked once again as O’Connor danced his way through a lax rearguard before laying the ball off to Kelly, who easily took his chance from just four yards out to double the lead for Collie O’Neill’s rampaging Students.
It looked for a certain time that College were going to extend their lead by a further goal as Kelly and Scales both saw some great chances evade their grasps in the immediate aftermath.
However, for all of UCD’s dominance, Wexford were handed a lifeline as Aaron Dobbs was inexplicably pulled down by Josh Collins in the UCD penalty are.
The on-loan Shamrock Rovers striker made absolutely no mistake from 12 yards as he sent Conor Kearns the wrong way to make it 2-1 just on the half-hour mark.
UCD reacted and nearly had their own version of lady luck on their side as O’Neill’s speculative shot from twenty-five yards out almost squirmed its way into the back of Gaffney's net after the Wexford netminder lost the flight of the ball.
In the last act of the first half, UCD extended their two-goal lead once again as Gary O’Neill beautifully caressed his curling effort from the edge of the box to send Collie O’Neill’s side well in control at the break.
It was a fantastic move that led to the goal as O’Connor went on a mazy run before finding the feet of McClelland, who laid the ball onto the path of O’Neill, and he curled his effort beautifully around the despairing dive of the faultless Gaffney.
The second half began as the first half finished as UCD looked to put the result beyond all doubt as Kelly saw two of his efforts fail to make a dent in the score-line with some heroic Wexford defending stopping him from delivering a majestic acrobatic shot into the back of the net.
From that very attack, Wexford clawed their way back into the game as Mark Slater smacked in a fantastic half-volley effort in off the post to send the small band of travelling support into raptures after some very good hold up play by Dean George at the edge of the UCD penalty area.
There was a flashpoint as Dobbs looked to have struck Collins while contesting for a bouncing ball with a leading elbow before falling to the ground rather dramatically, knowing that he may have easily found himself in a spot of bother with the referee had he stayed on his feet.
In the end, Dobbs recovered from his fall and received a yellow card from referee Adriano Reale due to his struggles.
Inevitably, the game petered out somewhat with UCD dominating proceedings once again with O’Connor going close twice as he forced some smart saves from Gaffney.
There was a rather strange ending to the game as Wexford looked as if they could have easily nicked a point at the home of the Students without looking especially threatening as they relied heavily on set-pieces to try and pull themselves level against the league leaders.
Saying that, it was UCD who had the more clear-cut chances as Yoyo Mahdy and Kelly both should have sealed the deal for Collie O’Neill’s men late on but were denied thanks to inaccurate finishing and desperate last-ditch defending respectively.
All in all, it was a good contest between two sides who certainly showed a lot promise throughout the game, with Damian Locke’s Wexford battling bravely right up until the last against a strong UCD challenge at the UCD Bowl.
Wexford must now dust themselves off for a tough assignment at home to Cabinteely in the Leinster Senior Cup while UCD will throw down against First Division promotion rivals Longford Town in the same competition.
UCD: Conor Kearns; Dan Tobin, Liam Scales, Maxi Kouogun (Paul Doyle 46), Josh Collins; Greg Sloggett, Daire O’Connor (Evan Osam 83), Gary O’Neill; Georgie Kelly, Kevin Coffey (Yoyo Mahdy 75), Jason McClelland.
Subs not used: Darragh Corcoran, Conor Crowley, Ben Hanrahan.
Booked: Liam Scales (65).
Wexford: Kealan Gaffney; Sean Hurley, Ross Kenny, Mikey Byrne (Danny Doyle 83), Mark Slater, Thomas Croke (Ryan Nolan 77), Aaron Dobbs (Dean George 60), Dean Kelly, Sean Kelly, Liam McCartan, Shane Barnes.
Subs not used: Colum Feeney, Owen McCormack, AJ Lehane.
Booked: Dean Kelly (41), Aaron Dobbs (57).
Referee: Adriano Reale.
Attendance: 120 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Daire O’Connor (UCD).