Cousins goal prevents UCD going to top of the league

 

THE pair's styles might present a fairly stark contrast but right now UCD appear to bear a growing similarity to their would be neighbours Wimbledon.

Both sides lifted a Cup during the eighties despite enjoying paltry levels of support and repeatedly finding themselves at the centre of relegation talk. Now, for the moment at least, both are doing even more to silence their critics by producing long unbeaten runs in the league.

Most notably, each was within a win of moving to the top of their respective tables for the first time over the weekend but, with Joe Kinnear's side allowing their chance to slip away against Arsenal on Saturday and the students also forced to settle for a point from Tolka Park yesterday, that somewhat unlikely scenario, has been at least temporarily averted.

Long accustomed to being pushed aside by more physical teams, UCD have recently built a solid run of victories on their growing capacity for defending a lead and the fact that Dundalk, Derry City and Dermot Keely's Home Farm are amongst the beaten sides gives an idea of the sort of resolve that the Dubliners have managed to produce.

That aspect of their game was in evidence in Tolka Park again yesterday when they surprised their hosts with a goal in the fourth minute and threatened to contain Pat Byrne's team for the remaining 86. The Rovers players seemed to get a bit of an alarm call from their manager at the break which clearly had the desired effect.

"I said a few things then and I'll say a few more through the week," remarked Byrne afterwards, adding: "I'd say some more now but I'd probably end up regretting it. They dominated the first half and we were absolutely abysmal. What we got afterwards was all right, but nothing more than that.

Byrne singled out UCD's passion as being the main difference between the sides and certainly the absence of any great commitment on the part of most of his own men was clear for all to see. The goal, a long kick out chased after and slotted home by Jason Sherlock, came out of nothing and was primarily the fault of Rovers central defenders particularly Gino Brazil - but goalkeeper Robbie Horgan had UCD's lack of forward penetration rather than any great work on the part of his own back four to thank for his relatively peaceful first 45 minutes.

Jason Colwell and Ciaran Kavanagh were as energetic and creative as usual for the sky blues but, out on the flanks, Darren O'Brien and last week's goalscorer Michael O'Donnell rarely made an impression while neither Robert Griffin nor Sherlock looked able to make the most of their opposition's defensive frailties.

Both Sherlock and O'Brien did have chances, after good work by Griffin on each occasion, to get their side's second goal but Sherlock, just before the break, pulled the ball too far wide before shooting. Five minutes after it O'Brien drove straight at the outcoming Horgan when he really should have chipped or rounded the stranded keeper.

By the time O'Brien was squandering his chance, though, the balance of the match was shifting significantly in favour of the hosts. As early as the second minute of the half Seamus Kelly had been forced into a good stop by Derek Tracey's close range header and when the same player tried his luck with a 25 yard drive in the 62nd minute, the UCD goalkeeper produced the save of the match to push the ball low around his right hand post.

From the resulting corner Marc Kenny played a short ball to Tracey who, in turn, sent it low into the box for Whelan. The centre half miskicked badly but the ball bobbled towards Tony Cousins and, with Kelly having already committed himself to Whelan's attempted strike, the former Bohemians' striker tapped home from a couple of yards.

For the rest of the game it was Rovers who looked the stronger and Pat Fenlon should have wrapped the remaining two points with 12 minutes left when Cousins set him Lip nicely inside the box. He blasted his sidefooted effort well over, though, and three minutes from time O'Donnell came within an inch or so of directing O'Brien's shot into the net to steal it for the students.