Tiarnán Mulvenna sprung from the bench to answer Stephen Kenny’s call within 60 seconds as his magnificent 77th-minute chip set Dundalk on the road to a valuable 2-1 win over UCD at the UCD Bowl on Saturday night, with John Dillon adding another before a late consolation for the hosts.
On a heavy pitch, it was the Students who created the clearer openings over the course of the 90 minutes, and Dundalk goalkeeper Peter Cherrie had to be smart to deny Daniel Corcoran in the opening quarter-hour.
Dundalk’s best chance of the first half came right at the end of it when Dillon found Vinny Faherty with a delightful ball but his low cross was brilliantly taken off the toe of Kurtis Byrne at the back post by Gareth Matthews’ last-ditch clearance.
The Louth side enjoyed more of the possession in the second half but ‘keeper Mark McGinley was equal to what Faherty and Richie Towell threw at him.
Cherrie, though, had to produce much better saves entering the final 15 minutes as he firstly got just enough on David McMillan’s shot as it hit the outside of the post, before two corners ended with Robbie Creevy getting in behind in the box but the Scottish ‘keeper did superbly to smother his advances.
Then Mulvenna entered in place of Faherty and the game turned on its head within four minutes, with the 24-year-old remaining the calmest person in the ground before lifting the ball over McGinley, and then he set up Dillon for the killer goal.
UCD were rocked and the game appeared well and truly over, but the Students did find a ‘Goal of the Season’ contender in the 89th minute when Matthews struck an incredible 35-yard free-kick to the top corner.
That meant a slightly nervous three minutes of injury-time, although the fight-back never materialised, with Dundalk comfortably holding out to bounce back in perfect style following their first defeat of the season by Sligo Rovers.
After a slow start to that game against the Bit O’ Red, Kenny decided on making four changes to the lineup as Chris Shields, Mark Rossiter, John Mountney and Faherty replaced John Sullivan, Eoghan Osborne, Stephen McDonnell and Patrick Hoban.
Rossiter, carrying the captain’s armband in the absence of Stephen O’Donnell, started in his preferred position of right-back, with Shields slotting in beside former Student Andy Boyle at the centre of defence.
But, again, the Lilywhites were slow out of the blocks and could have been behind inside 20 seconds but after getting into a good position on the right of the box, Gary Burke whistled a shot past Cherrie’s left-hand upright.
It would be a half of few clear-cut chances, and Dundalk’s first shot of the night was one from 25-yards on seven minutes as Dillon cleanly struck the ball but McGinley got down to hold well.
On 11 minutes, Boyle’s blushes were spared after he sloppily conceded possession to allow Corcoran in on goal but the former Drogheda United man’s shot was weak and Cherrie stuck out a foot to easily block it.
Byrne and Towell combined well down the left on the quarter-hour mark but after the latter picked out Ward in the box, the midfielder’s control let him down when a better touch would have left him in a good shooting position.
Cherrie was called into action again shortly after that when he did well to block away Burke’s corner with his feet, after Creevy had narrowly failed to connect with the delivery at the front post.
On 23 minutes, McGinley dropped Dillon’s corner but there was no Dundalk player on hand to take advantage before the UCD ‘keeper recovered, and the home netminder’s handling was better ten minutes later when he plucked out a Keith Ward cross.
Twelve minutes later, Dundalk had another let-off when Cherrie came to the edge of his box, with McMillan skipping around him only to fire wildly off target from a difficult angle when perhaps he had a little more time to compose himself.
After Dillon fired narrowly over from 35-yards, Dundalk went close to hitting the front on the stroke of half-time when Dillon found Faherty on the left edge of the box and his low cross was about to be turned in by Byrne only for Matthews to get back and clear behind.
At the beginning of the second half, Ward this time found Faherty on the right and his powerful shot from a tight angle was dropped by McGinley once more but again he recovered to clutch the ball at Byrne’s feet.
At the other end, Shields did brilliantly to deny McMillan a shot in the box, before Ward was unlucky when trying to pick out the in-rushing Dillon, while Towell had two shots on target, the latter forcing McGinley to push away.
Ward then fired over and Cherrie blocked behind at the feet of substitute Samir Belhout, before the Scottish ‘keeper saved his side twice around 74 minutes. Firstly, he got just enough on McMillan’s shot to take it onto the post, before he got down bravely to smother at the feet of Creevy who had broken free in the box.
That set the stage for Mulvenna who, seconds after coming on, latched onto Dillon’s pass and was coolness personified as he evaded two defenders and then chipped the out-rushing ‘keeper.
Mulvenna then attacked a cross into the box with the ball falling invitingly to Dillon 15-yards out and he finished clinically to the bottom corner.
Dundalk held what they had and were not seriously troubled by UCD until Matthews stood up to launch a long-range free-kick into the top corner, although there were no further chances as the Lilywhites saw out the three added minutes with ease.
UCD AFC: Mark McGinley, Hugh Douglas, David O’Connor, Gareth Matthews, Mark Langtry (Tyrone McNeils 63), Gary Burke, Robbie Creevy, Barry McCabe (Craig Walsh 76), David McMillan, Seán Russell, Daniel Corcoran (Samir Belhout 63). Unused Subs: Ger Barron (GK), James Kavanagh, Tom O’Halloran, Cillian Morrison.
DUNDALK FC: Peter Cherrie, Mark Rossiter (John Sullivan 78), Chris Shields, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, John Mountney, Richie Towell, John Dillon, Keith Ward (Darren Meenan 68), Kurtis Byrne, Vinny Faherty (Tiarnán Mulvenna 76). Unused Subs: Aaron Shanahan (GK), Eoghan Osborne, Patrick Hoban, Stephen McDonnell.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan).