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McClelland strike helps UCD end 11-game losing streak with crucial win against Harps

Collie O’Neill’s side secured their first win in 81 days against Finn Harps at the UCD Bowl.

Jason McClelland scored the winner on Friday night.
Jason McClelland scored the winner on Friday night.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

UCD 1

Finn Harps 0

ONE OF THE League of Ireland’s worst losing streaks in recent memory came to a dramatic end in fine style on Friday night in Belfield, as Jason McClelland’s composed first-half finish saw UCD breath new life into their fight for survival with a crucial 1-0 win against Finn Harps.

The Students have endured a tough past couple of months, to put it mildly, losing 11 Premier Division games one after another and seeing six of their excellent league-winning side from last season — Gary O’Neill, Neil Farrugia, Conor Davis, Timmy Molloy, Kevin Coffey and soon to be Liam Scales — each depart Belfield for a new adventure.

That astonishingly high number of departures in such a short, condescend period of time has made Collie O’Neill’s task of keeping The Students in the Premier Division this season an incredibly difficult, if not entirely impossible, task to overcome.

Their recent woes were encapsulated by the fact UCD could name only two players — Tom Murphy and Hugh Torfeldt — on their substitutes bench for Friday’s crucial six-pointer against Harps, such was the dearth of their player pool at hand this month. To their absolute credit though, O’Neill’s young side did not feel sorry for themselves and began the game in command and on the front foot.

Despite losing 11 games on the bounce and playing with a decimated squad, the hosts looked promising and dangerous from the get-go against a Harps side who themselves are in a tricky battle against relegation back down to the First Division this year.

Ollie Horgan’s men beat Sligo Rovers 2-0 with a brilliant display a fortnight ago and followed that win up with a battled-hardened 0-0 draw against Cork City a week ago in Donegal. Despite this recent purple patch though, the Ballybofey outfit were forced back early on and faced an uphill battle almost immediately.

Ollie Horgan Finn Harps manager Ollie Horgan. Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

With just eight minutes on the clock McClelland broke the deadlock. He latched onto a clever through ball from Danu Kinsella Bishop, McClelland taking a few close touches to keep the ball under wraps with tight control, before firing an elegant low strike into the far corner beyond the reach of goalkeeper Mark McGinley to make it 1-0.

Spirits were instantly raised and O’Neill’s side went in search of another. A brilliant break from Richie O’Farrell against a backpedaling Harps defence saw the midfielder feed a through ball into the run of Yoyo Mahdy. But his strike from a difficult angle could only smash the side netting

At the other end Nathan Boyle found himself in a brilliant one-on-one with Ireland U21 goalkeeper Conor Kearns. That swift and dangerous counter-attack was a key feature for Harps throughout the night. With a free strike at goal though, Boyle could only turn away in frustration as Kearns produced a brilliant save arriving off his line to close the space and deflect the ball away from danger.

Ollie Horgan’s men did produce a number of chances for Boyle, Raffaele Cretaro and Caolan McAleer, who were all lively and threatening up front all evening, but Kearns proved their nemesis time after time to keep his clean sheet in-tact and UCD’s 1-0 lead untouched.

UCD forward Mahdy almost doubled that lead with two snapshots which were blocked down heroically by Daniel O’Reilly and Sam Todd, while at the other end a perfectly-timed ball slipped through by McAleer found Cretaro, only for the veteran to scuff his effort and allow Kearns the opportunity to deflect the ball away from danger again.

Conor Kearns Ireland U21 goalkeeper Conor Kearns made a number of top saves for UCD. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

As the half wore on, Harps looked more and more likely to level. Boyle was gifted a brilliant chance to do just that in stoppage time after getting the better of his marker Luke Boore inside the penalty area. But yet again his effort failed to find its intended target, lagging narrowly wide of the bottom corner instead of rippling the back of Kearn’s net.

A more even contest unfolded after the break, both sides fully aware that not only would three points be on the line, but the opportunity to deny a fellow relegation candidate a crucial win at a point in the season when three points are not easy to come by.

A sweetly struck volley from Mark Coyle looked promising only to drop into the arms of the UCD goalkeeper standing on his goal-line. Popping up at the back post with a free header, Boyle again looked destined to level proceedings rising high untracked and untouched.

He made a firm and precise connection to flash a powerful header on target, but was foiled yet again thanks to a superb save from Kearns, the Ireland underage stop-stopper flicking his right wrist across in the nick of time to deny a certain equaliser and ensure UCD secured their first Premier Division win in 81 days.

UCD: Conor Kearns, Daniel Tobin, Harry McEvoy, Evan Farrell, Luke Boore, Paul Doyle, Jason McClellend, Mark Dignam, Yoyo Mahdy, Danu Kinsella Bishop, Richie O’Farrell

FINN HARPS: Mark McGinley; Keith Cowen, Daniel O’Reilly, Sam Todd, Mark Russell, Jacob Borg (Tony McNamee 46), Gareth Harkin (Mikey Place 70), Mark Coyle, Caolan McAleer, Raffaele Cretaro (Mark Timlin 62), Nathan Boyle

Referee: Robert Rogers

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher  / Reporting from The UCD Bowl

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