Andrew Dempsey reports from the UCD Bowl
UCD’s survival hopes were dealt a fatal blow on Friday evening as they fell to a demoralising two-nil defeat at home to Sligo Rovers.
A Conor Kearns own-goal coupled with Romeo Parke’s eleventh league goal of the season means that the Students have gone six points behind ninth placed Finn Harps.
The Students came into the Belfield showdown unchanged from their scoreless draw away to St Patrick’s Athletic last week with Dan Tobin and Liam Scales making their 103rd and 104th appearances for the club.
Liam Buckley however opted for four changes from his side’s 3-1 win at home to Finn Harps – with Lewis Banks, David Cawley, Kyle McFadden and Romeo Parkes all returning to the starting eleven.
It was the visitors who started in the ascendancy, but they had to wait until the tenth minute to have their first meaningful effort on goal, with Conor Kearns turning away a Lewis banks header from goal with his feet.
From the resulting counter-attack, the hosts almost took an unlikely lead. Yoyo Mahdy went on a searching run, but his pass was too long to find Jason McClelland – with the game remaining scoreless.
UCD were buoyed by their opening on the break, and soon went close through full-back Mark Dignam who just shot wide after a pass from the left-hand side through captain Paul Doyle.
Doyle was then at the centre of some good play from Maciej Tarnogrodzki’s side moments later as his long diagonal ball found Mahdy, who shot at the alert Ed McGinty who parried the danger clear with a strong hand.
The Students cause was strengthened halfway through the opening period when former Dundalk striker Ronan Murray was dismissed with a straight red card for a mistimed lunge on College defender Harry McEvoy.
However, the Students were unable to make their advantage count. Kearns had the misfortune of making a mess of his attempted punch clear – with the ball eventually trickling into the net from a David Cawley corner.
While the visitor’s opener was a sucker punch, their second was even more effective just on the stroke of half-time. Parkes beat the offside trap to slot home past the UCD keeper after the ball was fed into his path by Daryl Fordyce.
After a disappointing first-half, UCD began the second period brightly with McClelland forcing a good save from former Glasgow Celtic keeper McGinty.
However, the Bit O’Red remained a threat on the break – with sub Niall Watson going close at the back post.
Fordyce threaded the ball through to Twardek, who in turn crossed into the area to find Watson who was unable to steer home. Goalscorer Parkes went mightily close seconds later with a stinging effort.
Youngster Dara Keane was impressing throughout, and he soon went close with a strike on goal that was well collected by the in-form Sligo netminder before Twardek went close on the resulting break in play – hitting the side-netting.
To their credit, the hosts kept pushing to get a goal to find themselves back in the contest, but they were unable to pierce their way through a resolute Sligo rear-guard.
However, Sligo’s threat on the break always remained troublesome, with both Cawley and Parkes going close within the dying embers of the game at the UCD Bowl.
The result leaves UCD needing more than a miracle if they are to stay in the Premier Division for the 2020 campaign, while Sligo look in fine fettle ahead of their FAI Cup semi-final versus Dundalk next week.
UCD: Conor Kearns; Mark Dignam (Sam Byrne, 57), Evan Farrell, Harry McEvoy, Liam Scales, Dan Tobin; Paul Doyle, Dara Keane, Jason McClelland, Richie O'Farrell; Yousef Mahdy.
Subs not used: Ciaran Behan, Luke Boore, James Daly, Danu Kinsella Bishop, Dan Mullen, Tom Murphy.
Booked: Harry McEvoy (70), Paul Doyle (81), Liam Scales (88).
Sent off: None.
Sligo Rovers: Edward McGinty; Lewis Banks, Regan Donelon (Niall Morahan, 69), Danny Kane (Niall Watson, h/t); John Mahon, Kyle McFadden; David Cawley, Daryl Fordyce; Ronan Murray, Romeo Parkes, Kris Twardek.
Subs not used: Rónán Coughlan, Scott Lynch, Luke McNicholas, Brian Morley, John Russell.
Booked: Regan Donelon (58).
Sent off: Ronan Murray (20).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Attendance: 400 (Estimate).
ExtraTime.ie Player of the Match: Kris Twardek (Sligo Rovers).