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Posted 24 July 2015

UCD AFC’s Europa League adventure comes to an end

UCD AFC’s defeat to Slovan Bratislava may have ended their Europa League journey, but the team won over many more supporters as they battled hard in front of a sell-out home crowd at the UCD Bowl.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, the Students played a first half determined to avoid conceding a decisive away goal. The first forty minutes were marked with Slovan registering a number of efforts on goal from outside the box but few testing the UCD goalkeeper.

Striker Ryan Swan, who rarely takes a break from harrying opposition defenders, played the lone role up front for UCD and helped to alleviate pressure on the home side’s defence by making sure the Slovan defenders weren’t afforded the luxury of playing on the half way line.

The resulting space allowed for the Students to break out from their defensive positions and mount a number of threatening counter attacks with Dylan Watts, Gary O’Neill and Robbie Benson on hand to turn and put UCD on the offensive.

It was Swan who was the first to create an end product for UCD when a long was played down the line and he sprinted from his central position to pick up the pass.

He beat the full back with ease and moved briskly into the Slovakian side’s box. His shot forced Jan Mucha to ground but was ultimately too close to the former Everton keeper to cause any major difficulties.

The 41st minute brought a major blow for UCD as Robert Vittek, goalscorer against Italy and the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, headed home after a raking 50-yard ball was played back across goal from the far post.

It sailed over the head of Marko Milinković but Vittek followed in unmarked to score into the far corner. Good defending from the home team kept the scoreline 1-0 going into the half-time and left UCD needing to score at least three goals in the second period.

The opening five minutes of the second half belonged almost entirely to Slovan and their dominance brought a quick return as Milinković found his way past two defenders and slid a ball into the far corner.

Conor Cannon replaced Dylan Watts in the 55th minute and had an almost immediate impact when he collected the ball just inside his own half and progressed down the left hand side. He faked once, moved closer to the touchline, and crossed to the near post only for a Slovan defender to intercept.

Ryan Swan’s continued unwillingness to give up on the ball set him clean through when he blocked a Slovan clearance with the ball breaking invitingly into the Slovan third.

The decibel level rose to among as high as it’s been in recent years as the packed stand rose to its feet in anticipation as Swan made his way forward.

Martin Dobrotka, the chasing defender, came within touching distance but Swan’s precocious prevented him from being able make a tackle. He kept his body between defender and ball and the crowd roared as he slid the ball under Mucha to become UCD’s highest all-time European goalscorer.

If the opening half belonged to the Slovakian side then the next twenty minutes fell under the Students’ ownership. For those watching, this was a lesson in how to take a game to bigger opponents as UCD pressed and passed with a maturity becoming of a senior European side.

Robbie Benson almost drew the tie level when his 67th minute shot from twenty-two yards passed just wide of the post. Cannon again demonstrated his importance as he cleared a ball off the line and then broke down the left just thirty seconds later.

With Swan marauding forward after finding his fifth gear once again, the 1,361 fans in attendance envisioned 2-2 and an exciting final ten minutes only for Mucha’s reach and touch to take Cannon’s cross from the foot of Swan.

Slovan still sought the killer goal and were prevented in the 80th minute only by Maxi Kouogun whose last-ditch sliding block stopped a net-bound effort. Weak marking from the resulting corner left Kornel Salata with a free header as the tie was essentially put beyond even the best efforts of the home team.

Eoin Kirwan’s curling shot from wide of the box almost gave the crowd a stunning goal to take home and Robbie Benson found space for his own effort but UCD’s commitment to finding a goal left them defensively vulnerable.

It was to be Slovakian international Vittek who finished the tie with two goals in stoppage time to post a final score of 5-1.

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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