FOOTBALL | Sava stands tall as Dundalk FC beat UCD on penalties
EA Sports Cup | Dundalk FC 1–1 UCD | Dundalk win 6–5 on pens
Gavin McLaughlin reports from Oriel Park
Stephen Kenny demanded more penalties and he got seven of them at Oriel Park on Easter Monday as Dundalk required spot kicks to beat UCD and advance to the quarter-finals of the EA Sports Cup.
Gary O’Neill gave the First Division side a half-time lead before Ciaran Kilduff missed a penalty — Dundalk’s first in almost a year — when Niall Corbet got down to block his attempt.
Conor Clifford forced extra-time with a well-taken finish, his first goal for the Lilywhites, in the 76th minute but the League of Ireland champions were left frustrated after that by Corbet’s heroics.
Both sides converted each of their first five penalties before UCD substitute Yousef Mahdy was denied in sudden death by Gabriel Sava to give Dundalk the win.
As expected, Kenny made a host of changes with Clifford and Sean Hoare the only survivors from the team that was beaten by Bray Wanderers on Friday night.
Teenagers Steven Kinsella, Carlton Ubaezuono and Keith Dalton were all handed an opportunity to impress but there was plenty of experience in the starting XI with Stephen O’Donnell, Thomas Stewart and Ciaran Kilduff amongst those who featured.
The Students, who occupy second place in Division One, knocked the ball around with confidence early on and O’Neill bent an eighth-minute free kick around the Dundalk wall only to see it gathered by Sava.
At the other end, the lively Kinsella picked out Kilduff with a beautiful cross but the striker’s header drifted wide with the assistant’s flag up in any event. Kilduff then rose to meet a Kinsella corner but couldn’t keep his header on target.
Ben Hanrahan, a son of former Dundalk title winning striker, Peter, wore the number 10 shirt for UCD and he tested Sava with a left-footed half volley in the 14th minute after making a yard on Paddy Barrett.
Dundalk failed to heed the warning and the visitors pulled in front three minutes later. A cross from the left wasn’t cleared and the ball fell kindly for O’Neill who made no mistake with a tidy finish from 18 yards.
Sava was called into action again, this time throwing himself to his left to parry another O’Neill free-kick to safety on the half hour mark.
Dundalk looked flat for much of the first-half and Kenny reacted to his side’s display by introducing birthday boy Dane Massey and Jamie McGrath in place of Stephen O’Donnell and Carlton Ubaezuono at the break.
And Dundalk almost pulled level straight from the restart when Kilduff ran onto another Kinsella pass only to see Niall Corbet get a strong hand on his drive.
McGrath picked out Kinsella just short of the hour mark but he couldn’t find the space to get a shot away, much to the frustration of the home support.
A golden opportunity to draw level arrived in the 65th minute when Kinsella was dragged down after going past Liam Scales on the right.
Referee Robert Harvey pointed to the spot, drawing ironic cheers from the home support, but Kilduff’s effort gave Corbet a chance to get down and keep the ball out.
The UCD goalkeeper then produced two fine saves from John Mountney and Thomas Stewart to keep the scores level, the second a fantastic stop after a well-worked move involving Massey and McGrath.
Kilduff had strong appeals for another penalty waved away by Harvey after Dean Tobin looked to have handled his goalbound header.
Dundalk continued to push and the equaliser finally arrived in the 76th minute when Clifford rifled home from 25 yards after Massey rolled a free-kick into his path.
Massey almost marked his 29th birthday with a late 89th-minute winner but Josh Collins got in the way of his effort and extra-time was needed to separate the sides.
Substitute Chris Shields became the latest Dundalk player to go close in the 10th minute of extra-time, his deflected effort flying just wide.
From the subsequent corner, Sean Hoare’s header scraped the top of the crossbar and the central defender then saw another header flash across the face of goal with nobody in a white shirt there to convert.
Dundalk thought they had pulled ahead in the 107th minute of play when McGrath beat Corbet with a well-struck volley from a Hoare knockdown but the goal was chalked off due to a raised flag by the assistant on The Shed side of the ground.
And Mahdy had a chance to win it for the Students when he bore down on goal with four minutes to play but he was stopped in his tracks by a superb Massey tackle.
Play switched to the other end and McGrath looked like he was going to be the Dundalk hero when he dinked an effort past Corbet only to see it drift wide of the post.
Penalties ensued with Sava proving to be the match-winner, getting down well to push Mahdy’s attempt away.
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DUNDALK FC: Gabriel Sava; Keith Dalton, Paddy Barrett (Chris Shields 61), Sean Hoare, Carlton Ubaezuono (Dane Massey HT); Conor Clifford, Stephen O’Donnell (Jamie McGrath HT); Steven Kinsella, Thomas Stewart, John Mountney; Ciaran Kilduff. Subs not used: Michael Duffy, Emmet Hughes, James Rice, Ben Kelly (GK).
UCD: Niall Corbet; Dean Tobin, Liam Scales, Josh Collins, Sean Coyne (Evan Osam 69); Rob Manley ((Yousef Mahdy 113), Greg Sloggett, Gary O’Neill, Gareth Coughlan; Georgie Kelly, Ben Hanrahan (Max Kouogun 78). Subs not used: Conor Crowley, Cian Kavanagh, Jack Ryan, Conor Kearns (GK).
REFEREE: Robert Harvey.