FOR the second time in just four days, Dundalk were left to rue the cost of missed chances as they fell to a shock 3-2 defeat at home to UCD on Friday night.
David McMillan inspired the Students to their victory, a win that moves them clear of the relegation play-off spot.
The 24-year-old striker, who scored the winner in the corresponding fixture last season, hit a brace before setting up Robbie Benson for UCD’s third goal to stretch Martin Russell’s side’s unbeaten run to four games and leave Dundalk wondering about what might have been.
Pat Hoban got the home side off to the perfect start inside the first two minutes, collecting a fantastic pass from John Dillon to take the ball down and fire past Conor O’Donnell but it all went wrong after that.
UCD drew level 12 minutes later when David McMillan smashed a penalty into the roof of the net after John Sullivan was penalised for a push on Gary Burke and McMillan made it 2-1 shortly after the break.
Dundalk pushed forward looking for a way back into things but they were carved open for UCD’s third, a fabulous goal by Robbie Benson after a clinical counter attack.
Hoban grabbed a second in the dying stages but by then Dundalk should have been at least on level terms with Stephen O’Donnell and Tiarnan Mulvenna in particular wasting fantastic opportunities. Dundalk’s night was then summed up in stoppage time when Kurtis Byrne smacked the crossbar with a thunderous volley.
The Dundalk manager was disappointed with his side’s finishing in the 1-0 defeat to Shamrock Rovers in the EA Sports League Cup tie just three nights previously and it was no surprise to see Mulvenna and Hoban restored to the starting line up in place of Byrne and Vinny Faherty.
Stephen O’Donnell, John Dillon, Mark Rossiter and Andy Boyle also returned to the starting XI. Dane Massey and John Sullivan, who started as the centre-back partnership in Tallaght, reverted to the full-back positions.
The Students arrived on the back of a three game unbeaten run but they were on the back foot after just 100 seconds when Dillon floated a wonderful pass over the head of David O’Connor and Hoban showed great composure to control the ball and find the net from 12-yards.
Many expected Dundalk to push on and ram home the advantage but, a Mulvenna half chance aside, they didn’t look like adding a second and it was UCD who were celebrating the next goal.
The equaliser came in the 14th minute. Sullivan raised his arms and made contact with Burke. It might have been minimal but it was enough for referee Sean Grant to point to the spot and McMillan left Cherrie with no chance with his effort.
McMillan did have another sighting of goal in the 25th minute after a neat piece of skill took him away from Mark Rossiter but his effort lacked the power that was evident in his penalty.
The home side struggled to penetrate the well drilled UCD midfield and defensive lines but they did find a way through for what would have been one of the goals of the season in the 29th minute.
A fantastic bout of one touch play involving Keith Ward, Mulvenna and Hoban cut UCD wide open but Stephen O’Donnell could not apply the finishing touch that the move deserved, screwing his effort wide.
McMillan continued to ask questions of the Dundalk back four and he was causing mischief again just past the half hour, pouncing on some hesitancy between Cherrie and Mark Rossiter only to shoot wide from 18-yards.
Dundalk should have restored their lead two minutes later. Hoban did just enough to guide a booming clearance by Cherrie into Mulvenna’s path but the striker, who was making his 100th appearance for the Lilywhites, wasted the chance, putting his effort badly wide with just O’Donnell to beat.
The second-half was in its infancy when Oriel Park was stunned into silence as UCD went in front as McMillan seized Benson’s left wing cross to sweep a low drive across Cherrie into the bottom corner.
Knowing that nothing less than three points would be seen as a disaster, Dundalk increased the tempo and Keith Ward and John Dillon both went close in quick succession.
However they were left with a mountain to climb as the Students made it 3-1 thanks to a fantastic example of counter attacking football which saw McMillan and Benson combine to tear Dundalk apart. Benson’s ball sent McMillan haring through on the inside right and the striker returned the favour, cutting the ball back for Benson to sweep home.
The home side laid siege to the UCD goal after that with Mulvenna having a goal ruled out for offside after O’Donnell had forced a brilliant stop from his namesake in the UCD goal.
Hoban set up a grandstand finish when he turned the ball home in the 84th minute and Byrne almost rescued a point in stoppage time but his stunning volley hit the bar, blowing Dundalk’s chances of making ground up on the top three.
DUNDALK: Peter Cherrie; John Sullivan (John Mountney 63), Andy Boyle, Mark Rossiter, Dane Massey; John Dillon, Stephen O’Donnell, Richie Towell, Keith Ward (Darren Meenan 67); Pat Hoban, Tiarnan Mulvenna (Kurtis Byrne 80). Subs not used: Eoghan Osborne, Stephen McDonnell, Vinny Faherty, Aaron Shanahan (GK).
UCD: Conor O’Donnell; Gareth Mathews, David O’Connor, James Kavanagh, Mark Langtry; Dean Clarke (Cillian Morrison 68), Barry McCabe (Colm Crowe 77), Craig Walsh (Hugh Douglas 88), Robert Benson, Gary Burke; David McMillan. Subs not used: Sean Coyne, Thomas O’Halloran, Daniel Corcoran, Mark McGinley (GK).
REFEREE: Sean Grant.