League of Ireland First Division
Shelbourne 3 UCD 1
Ryan Brennan was Shelbourne’s matchwinner for the third game on the bounce as his first-half double helped the Reds open a five-point lead at the top of the First Division.
The Drogheda man made it five goals in his last four games after John Ross Wilson headed home his second goal in as many games to put the home side in front.
UCD looked to be heading into the sheds at half time with the deficit halved following a fine finish from Harvey O’Brien, but Brennan bravely headed home the third as injury time approached.
The Students piled on the pressure in the second half as they sought a route back into the game but they failed to trouble a well-organised Shels side who were content to play on the counter.
“We spoke about that carrot this week. You can extend that lead at the top and any gap you can put between the teams below you is fantastic,” Shels boss Ian Morris told the Dublin Gazette.
“I thought the way the lads approached the game tonight, and executed it as well, they were really, really good. Even lads who didn’t play were really good behind the scenes tonight.”
The Reds manager hailed his side’s fitness levels against a UCD side who dominated the ball for long periods but couldn’t break through a relentless press led by the evergreen Brennan.
“Ryan Brennan gave a bit of a hand up after 70 minutes and we just kept telling him ‘five minutes’ for about 20 minutes.
“He was brilliant tonight. He set the tone for us. Everything he did was quality – his drive, his fitness levels and the goals as well.”
Shels began brightly and Brennan brought out a good save from Lorcan Healy early on as he caught a Wilson cross sweetly on the volley.
Wilson did make the breakthrough midway through the half as he was left completely unmarked from Kevin O’Connor’s inswinging free kick and he dove to head in low at the back post.
Shels doubled their advantage within two minutes from another O’Connor free kick, and again UCD’s markers failed to track their man as Brennan nodded home under no pressure at all.
The Students threatened goal for the first time before the half-hour mark as Evan Weir’s free kick was flicked on by his centre-half partner O’Brien, but it sailed harmlessly over.
It should have been 3-0 moments later as Yoyo Mahdy slipped in Michael O’Connor with a tidy through-ball but the striker had moved too early and was called back for offside.
Colm Whelan, who has been watched in recent weeks by a host of Premier Division clubs, almost created a goal from nothing as he danced through four challenges but he couldn’t apply the finish.
UCD got the goal they craved from yet another set-piece as Weir’s free kick was only half-cleared. O’Brien spun on a sixpence before picking out the top corner from ten yards.
That should have been it for the first half but Shels regained their two-goal lead on the stroke of half time, and once again it came from a Kevin O’Connor set-piece.
His inswinging corner looked like it would be claimed by Lorcan Healy but Brennan nipped in ahead of the keeper to force it home, colliding with the post in the process.
The second half was less eventful as UCD couldn’t turn their possession into clear chances, with Liam Kerrigan’s low shot doing little to worry Brendan Clarke.
Mahdy dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box, while Weir tested Clarke with a long-range free kick at the other end, but the home side held out comfortably for the win.
“It was a tough night at the office and, first half, I was really disappointed with the manner of the goals,” said UCD manager Andy Myler.
“Two set-pieces – we’ve worked hard on that all year and hadn’t conceded one yet, so I’m really disappointed with it.
“There wasn’t a hell of a lot else in the game – it’s not like Lorcan’s having to pull off saves. Shels were on top in the first half but outside the set-pieces we were comfortable.
“You can’t defend set-pieces like that and get anything out of a game, so we’re very disappointed, and even once we get back into the game we give away another one.”