Monday 22 January 2018

UCD remain outsiders to advance despite unlikely victory

But a repeat of their second half showing would give Students hope

UCD's Ryan Swan celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal.
UCD's Ryan Swan celebrates with team-mates after scoring his side's first goal.

Seán Ryan

The inclusion of UCD, via the Fair Play route, strengthened the League of Ireland's hand in this year's Europa League, but that didn't meet with universal approval - even among their fellow countrymen. Manager Collie O'Neill revealed how he had pinned up some of the less sensitive remarks forwarded by the Twitter brigade - 'shit team' about summed up the tone - and his players answered their critics in the best possible way by recording the League's only win in the first-leg games.

The roar which greeted Ryan Swan's 44th-minute goal was, without doubt, the loudest from the Students' supporters since they moved to the Belfield Bowl. As one of their fans ruefully admitted to me: "The loudest roars we hear are usually from the visiting fans."

On this occasion, the 1,075 attendance for the visit of Dudelange of Luxembourg was largely made up of home fans, and the players responded with an impressive display of excellent defending and intelligent passing moves.

The defenders earned their corn in a first half which saw them beat back wave after wave of Dudelange attacks. The corner count at half-time was 8-0 to the visitors, but poor delivery allied to less than imaginative movement meant that Mick Leahy and Tomas Boyle were rarely under pressure heading clear, while goalkeeper Niall Corbet was in inspired form.

The winning goal, set up by playmaker Robbie Benson and finished clinically by Swan, was a real sucker punch for the dominant visitors.

Some subtle changes by manager O'Neill made for a more even second half, with UCD defending higher up the pitch, and threatening to add to their tally on a number of occasions, not least when their corner-takers Chris Mulhall and Benson showed the visitors how it should be done.

A repeat of that second- half form on Thursday (5.0) would give UCD every chance of making the second qualifying round, in which the winners travel to Slovan Bratislava. The additional €200,000 prize for first-round victory would also be very welcome, as the College are anxious to fund another astro pitch.

O'Neill made a valid point after the game when he pointed out: "They gambled a bit more than they might at home. They went looking for the away goal."

At home, their first consideration will have to be not to concede another, and that might help UCD's chances of getting a foothold in the game.

Before last week's games, UCD were the outsiders of the Irish quartet to advance to the second qualifying round and, despite winning, that hasn't changed. It will still be a bigger surprise if they overcome Dudelange than St Patrick's Athletic coming from behind to beat Skonto Riga in Inchicore on Thursday, Shamrock Rovers beating Niederkorn in Tallaght on Tuesday, or Cork City grabbing an away win in Reykjavik on Thursday evening.

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