Dave Donnelly reports from the UCD Bowl
Dundalk stretched their domestic winning run to seven and maintained a comfortable four-point cushion from second-placed Shamrock Rovers as they put five past UCD in Belfield.
Daniel Cleary scored twice, bookending goals from Seán Hoare, Michael Duffy and former Student Georgie Kelly, as Vinny Perth’s side moved one step closer to retaining their league crown.
Two defeats in a week at the hands of Dundalk, conceding eight and scoring none, has brought UCD back to earth following the elation of last week’s FAI Cup win over St Patrick’s Athletic.
The Students were compact and well-organised for long spells but saw their good work undone as they conceded three times from set-pieces, and they showed little ambition on the ball.
Perth, mindful of the toll six European fixtures have taken on his squad, made seven changes to the side that won 3-0 at Oriel Park on Monday but the story on the pitch was much the same.
While they hit the front inside three minutes in Dundalk, it took 13 minutes to break the deadlock in Belfield but already there was a sense the scoreboard would only tick in one direction.
The Lilywhites had set the tempo from the first whistle but hadn’t created anything of note when they were awarded a corner on the right.
Sean Murray’s corner was delivered into the centre and Cleary leaped high above the pack to plant his header past Conor Kearns, restored to the line-up after a six-game ban.
Kearns did brilliantly to deny Murray from close range moments later but the respite was brief as Cleary’s defensive partner Hoare met the resulting corner for a mirror image of the opener.
UCD had only two clear chances in the game, both from the feet of Jason McClelland, and his smart turn and shot had Gary Rogers scrambling but whistled past his left-hand post.
Another Murray delivery caused panic late in the half as the ball was allowed drop in the six-yard box and Dara Keane was very lucky to see his attempted clearance bounce back off the post.
And a quick free kick from Dane Massey caught the UCD defence flat-footed, but substitute Robbie Benson, on for Jamie McGrath as a precaution, side-footed wide.
Dundalk continued to control after the break but took their foot off the pedal and it was only the introduction of Duffy, for the injured Murray, that provided extra pelt.
The winger showed impressive strength to hold off Liam Scales on the edge of the box before smashing a shot in the bottom corner past an unsighted Kearns.
Georgie Kelly, one of three former Students in the Dundalk team, made it four with the goal of the game a minute from time, a perfectly angled header from 12 yards.
Cleary added further anguish for the home side as they were once again caught out from a set-piece and the Dubliner headed home his second from Duffy’s corner.
UCD: Conor Kearns; Harry McEvoy, Liam Scales, Luke Boore, Evan Farrell; Jack Keaney, Dara Keane (Richie O’Farrell 81), Liam Kerrigan; Jason McClelland, Sam Byrne, Yoyo Mahdy (Ciaran Behan 76).
Subs not used: Gavin Sheridan (gk), Aaron McGrath, Dan Mullen, James Daly.
Booked: Jack Keaney (40).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Cameron Dummigan, Seán Hoare, Dan Cleary, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Sean Murray (Michael Duffy 66), Jamie McGrath (Robbie Benson 40); Daniel Kelly (Patrick Hoban 76), Patrick McEleney, Georgie Kelly.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Dean Jarvis.
Referee: Ray Matthews (Mullingar).
Attendance: 768 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Daniel Cleary (Dundalk).