By Aaron Clarke (@Aaron_c91)
A brace from Jason McClelland and a Greg Sloggett penalty ensured UCD AFC closed the gap to league leaders Waterford FC to four points after the Students ran out 3-2 victors in a five goal thriller at the Belfield Bowl on Friday evening.
After suffering defeat against Shels in their only outing since the mid-season break, Collie O’Neill’s side knew nothing short of victory would suffice and it was his side who started the brightest when Sloggett latched onto a Timmy Molloy free-kick, but the midfielder failed to find the target under pressure from the Waterford defence.
With the visitors struggling to gain a foothold in the encounter, the Students broke the deadlock in the 13th minute when Jason McClelland’s strike took a wicked deflection off Anthony McAlavey before wrong footing goalkeeper Matt Connor.
Despite falling behind early on, Waterford’s first meaningful effort didn’t arrive until the stroke of half-time when Derek Daly cut inside from the right flank before shooting, but his low effort sailed the wrong side of the UCD goal.
With half-time fast approaching, UCD had two opportunities to double their advantage. First O’Connor’s cross was just missed by Georgie Kelly, before moments later Sloggett fired wide from the edge of the box.
When the sides resumed after the break, it was UCD who continued where they left off. A lovely weighted through ball from McClelland picked out Kelly before the forward squared possession to O’Connor. However, the Ireland Universities international failed to trouble Connors with his effort from the edge of the box.
Despite O’Connor’s effort sailing wide, the hosts pressure paid off three minutes later when McClelland grabbed his second goal after the winger was gifted too much space by the Waterford defence, his low shot from 25 yards sailed into the bottom corner.
As the league leaders continued to look for a way back into the game, Garry Comerford’s long range strike sailed harmlessly wide.
With their confidence at a high, the Students continued to go in search of a third goal with both O’Connor and McClelland firing over the bar from the edge of the box.
With the rain now pouring down at the Bowl, UCD grabbed a third goal from the penalty spot with 20 minutes remaining when Kelly was fouled by Kenny Browne before Sloggett dispatched the spot-kick into the top corner with the aid of the woodwork.
Despite being 3-0 down, Waterford were intent on giving the hosts a shock and they should have pulled a goal back three minutes after Sloggett’s penalty when Daly latched onto a McAlavey cross, but his close range effort forced an excellent save from Corbet in the Student’s goal.
Two minutes later, Waterford got their just rewards when David McDaid’s effort appeared to be going in before second-half substitute Kenny McEvoy poked the ball home on the goal line.
As the clock continued to tick away, Waterford ensured it would be a nervy last nine minutes for UCD when McDaid produced the goal of the game after he raced onto a long ball before looping the possession over the head Maxi Kouogun before firing low past the onrushing Corbet.
Despite some late pressure, Waterford’s comeback fell agonisingly short and they will be hoping for better fortunes when they travel to Shelbourne next Friday while UCD are on the road against Wexford FC at Ferrycarrig Park.
UCD AFC: Niall Corbet; Josh Collins (Cian Kavanagh 83), Liam Scales, Maxi Kouogun, Evan Osam; Daniel Tobin, Timmy Molloy, Greg Sloggett, Daire O’Connor (Sean Coyne 83), Jason McClelland; Georgie Kelly (Ben Hanrahan 71).
Subs Not Used: Conor Kearns, Rob Manley, Simon Power, Gareth Coughlan.
Booked: Timmy Molloy (39), Josh Collins (79).
Waterford FC: Matt Connor; Robin Dempsey, Patrick McClean, Kenny Browne, Derek Daly; Garry Comerford (Kenny McEvoy 68), Shane O’Connor, Anthony McAlavey; Mark O’Sullivan (71), David McDaid, John Martin (Gary Delaney 83).
Subs Not Used: Matt Sheehan, Dean Walsh, Conor Whittle, Owen Wall.
Booked: David McDaid (38), Kenny Browne (50)
Referee: Marc Lynch
Man of the Match: Jason McClelland (UCD AFC)