UCD AFC played Bray Wanderers in their third game of their pre-season campaign on Tuesday evening, the 9th of March at the UCD Bowl. After an exciting game, a 3-3 draw was all either side could manage in the real ‘game of two halves’.
Coming into the game, UCD enjoyed a win and suffered a loss in their first two friendly matches of the 2021 season, against Longford Town and Shamrock Rovers respectively. Bray Wanderers have experienced a frustrating run of games in their preseason campaign, drawing against Shamrock Rovers and Derry, then losing their most recent fixture against Bohemians. With the two side’s run of form, it was crucial for both teams to secure a victory so as to lift squad spirits before the first league games, beginning at the end of March. With Bray winning both fixtures against UCD last season in the SSE Airtricity League First Division, the Students were in for a tough game on a windy and rainy evening.
The first five minutes of the game were difficult with both teams trying to string a few passes together and settle into the game. This was until Bray’s Stephen Kinsella was released down the line to the right-hand side of UCD’s 18-yard box. He pulled the ball back to striker Darragh Lynch who maybe should have done better, placing his shot straight at UCD ‘keeper Carl Williams.
A few minutes later, Lynch won the ball from UCD central midfielder Evan Farrell in the middle of the UCD half, but could only register a weak shot on goal thanks to the efforts of UCD’s back four to surround the striker.
With 13 minutes gone, the Students went one up when their front line hassled Bray just outside their own box. Bray lost possession and Adam Lennon latched onto the loose ball. Lennon heard the call and set back to Adam Farrell, who drove a low shot across Bray goalkeeper, Kian Clarke, into the bottom left corner, taking UCD to a 1-0 lead.
UCD continued to mount pressure and in the 19th minute, grabbed their second when another loose pass from Bray enabled Lennon to run at a single defender just outside the Bray box. He showed quick feet, pushing the ball to his right side before he released a powerful shot to the right-hand side of the goal, beating Clarke from about 20 yards out.
At the half hour mark, there was a penalty shout with the ball bouncing around the Bray box. Adam Farrell was taken down and seemed to sustain a knock, but referee Gavin Colfer decided that no foul was committed.
With a couple of minutes to go in the first half, UCD had their third and almost certainly goal of the pre-season. A few tough tackles from Wanderers gave the Students a free kick on the right corner of the opposition box. With Ciaran Behan standing over the ball near 30 yards out, the left footer was expected by spectators to curve the ball into the box for one of his teammates. However, he elected to shoot and blasted his curving shot to the near post, leaving Clarke with no chance.
Bray came very close to a goal in the last minute of the half from a Jack Hughes effort, which forced a save from Carl Williams onto the post. The resulting corner kick was met well by the head of a Bray player and Williams made another great save to deny a goal.
Going into half-time, UCD manager Andy Myler would have been satisfied with his team’s performance. Wanderers manager Gary Cronin must have sent a strong message to his players at the break as they came out with a new-found purpose to get their foot back into the affairs.
Bray got their goal in the 64th minute from a corner. Right-footed Joe Power whipped the ball into the box from the left and with the help of a strong wind blowing towards the UCD goal, Glen Hollywood headed home to bring his team back within a two-goal margin.
Two minutes later, it was Power again to put a curled cross into the UCD box from a free kick on the left. The Students managed to clear the ball but only to the edge of the box, where left-back Dara O’Shea stood waiting. He trapped the ball efficiently at his feet from the air and with his next touch finished to the bottom right hand corner; a stunning goal from outside the box, drawing Wanderers to within one of UCD.
In the last 20 minutes of the game, Bray excelled and chances for the equalizer kept coming. Power continued to utilize the wind with a corner from the left, and he bended the ball in a similar fashion to the near post. The cross skimmed off a UCD head onto the post before it bounced out and was cleared.
Bray equalized a few minutes later through substitution Charlie Gallagher, who ran onto a well-placed through ball when he powered his way through the efforts of the UCD defence and slotted home past sub-goalkeeper Cormac Henry.
In the last minutes of normal time, Wanderers found the woodwork yet again when Luka Lovic dribbled his way infield from the left-hand side of the box and got a shot away to the far corner. It drifted onto the post and the Students could let out a sigh of relief and see out the game.
Myler seemed to be pleased with his team’s first half performance and was “happy that we could see things we worked on in training coming off”. Despite the tricky conditions, Myler praised the lads as they “passed the ball well” and “played relatively well all around the pitch”.
Having just three substitutes on the line, Myler was impressed with each player who came off the bench. “We trained the rest of the squad before the game and we wanted to get 90 minutes into most of the lads [in the matchday panel]”. Myler went on to say that “the mood in the camp is really good” as new signings are providing lots of competition.
For their Saturday fixture against St. Pats, Myler stated that the main focus is around the shape and structure of the side as UCD take on a team who are of “a much better level than the First Division”. The Students are “looking forward to getting started” in the Airtricity League First Division next month as are we all. League football is just a few weeks away.
Alex Smith – Sports Writer