Europa League: UCD’s campaign comes to an end at Belfield
Robert Vittek’s hat-trick sees Slovan Bratislava score five against Students
UCD’s Ryan Swan sees his attempt blocked by Slovan Bratislava goalkeeper Jan Mucha during the Uefa Europa League second qualifying round, second leg at The UCD Bowl. Photograph: Marcus Sheridan/Inpho
UCD 1 Slovan Bratislava 5 (SK progess 6-1 on aggregate)
Three goals in the final nine minutes at the Belfield Bowl helped Slovan Bratislava make a convincing victory over UCD seem like a Europa League humiliation for the League of Ireland outfit.
Their late collapse might smack of youthful naivety but, as has been the recurrent theme of the five Irish European participants this season, UCD were simply outclassed by a team operating in a far more professional league.
Despite the result, it was a night to remember for striker Ryan Swan, whose 57th-minute strike not alone brought the Students back within one goal of their Slovakian guests with plenty of time to play, but also earned him the kudos of becoming the club’s record goalscorer in Europe. His tally of three has the potential to last for decades.
Slovan’s veteran striker Robert Vittek enjoyed an even better evening, scoring a hat-trick including a stoppage-time brace. Having been sacrificed at half-time of last week’s first leg, due to the hosts being down to 10 men, his trip to Dublin more than atoned.
The 33-year-old supplied the crucial opener towards the end of a frustrating first half during which territorial dominance failed to have UCD goalkeeper Niall Corbett overly troubled.
In adherence to manager Collie O’Neill’s pre-match message, UCD started the game at pace with Chris Mulhall supplying an early glimpse of what may be on offer by fizzing his fifth-minute drive from 25 yards wide with goalkeeper Jan Mucha beaten.
That amounted to the height of the ex-Everton stopper’s exertions in the opening half as the visitors controlled the tempo, adopting a patient approach in possession before attempting to get behind College’s full backs, who’d been given license to join the attack in pursuit of cancelling out the one-goal deficit from the away leg.
Richard Lasik’s curler on 10 minutes and a free-kick by Marko Milinkovic shortly afterwards from good positions both missed the target and it was only from Adam Zrelak’s instinctive volley that Corbett was forced into a save of note until the breakthrough arrived.
That came after Frantisek Kubik stood a cross up from the left to the far post where Milinkovic nodded back across goal for Vittek to apply a diving header from eight yards.
A goal before the interval was followed with another swiftly afterwards. If Milinkovic has endured a frustrating opening 45 minutes, he was able to forget about it on 49 minutes by skipping past a couple of defenders and tucking a low shot home.
Just at it seemed a landslide could follow, UCD pulled one back, as Swan dispossessed Kornel Salata near the halfway line, sprinted clear before stroking the ball under Mucha.
Three minutes later, Swan broke clear again only to see his shot smothered by the advancing goalkeeper. It would prove the last chance of the European odyssey continuing.
Salata made his height count when up for a corner on 81 minutes by heading home Milinkovic’s delivery for 3-1.
Vittek then gave the scoreline a flattering look by firstly racing free a minute into added time to grab his second and then crane his neck to connect with Milinkovic’s left-wing cross a couple of minutes later for the hat-trick.
“Mentally and physically, we are all drained,” admitted O’Neill afterwards. “We’ve had a brilliant month by playing four games in the Europa League and the experience will stand to these young players.”
The €410,000 banked from Uefa will give the club plenty to cherish too.
UCD: Corbett; Leahy, Boyle, Kouogun, Langtry; O’Neill, Watts (Cannon 55 mins); Mulhall (Belhout 86 mins), Benson, Doyle (Kirwan 75 mins); Swan.
SLOVAN BRATISLAVA: Mucha; Sekulic, Dobrotka (Hudak 69 mins), Salata, Podany; Lasic, Stafanik; Milinkovic (Gasparovic 83 mins), Kubic (Orsula 67 mins), Zrelak; Vittek.
Referee: Ognjen Valjic (BIH)