A second-half implosion saw Cork City fall to their fifth league defeat of the season away to UCD last night.
Gary O’Neill stroked home a penalty with the last kick of the game after the UCD captain was fouled in the box by Sean McLoughlin.
McLoughlin’s first-half goal had John Caulfield’s side in control at the break but UCD scored twice in the final five minutes as the visitors fell apart.
Garry Comerford was shown a straight red card for an ugly challenge on Neil Farrugia with 13 minutes to play and UCD took full advantage with goals from Yoyo Mahdy and O’Neill.
UCD made just one change from Friday night’s 2-0 home defeat as Paul Doyle came in in place of Ireland U19 international Richie O’Farrell.
City boss John Caulfield made sweeping changes from the 1-1 draw at home to St Patrick’s Athletic at the weekend, with Gary Boylan making his first league start as one of four new faces.
The visitors started the game with Boylan and Shane Griffin as wing backs but settled into a flat back four as they grew into the first half, with a strong wind at their backs.
The Students, by contrast, struggled to break into a passing rhythm on a pitch ravaged by a glut of end-of-season rugby games in recent weeks, with pockets of sand visible on the surface.
An early attempt to play from the back could have cost the Students as Paul Doyle trod on the ball, and Garry Comerford stung Conor Kearns’ palms with a first-time effort from range.
UCD had to wait until the half-hour mark for their first opening of note but, after being played in by Gary O’Neill, Neil Farrugia couldn’t pick out Yoyo Mahdy in the centre.
In fact, the most entertaining action of the night had been a stadium announcement requesting the driver of the Cork City team bus to report to the main gate.
This was greeted with a loud cheer and gleeful chants of ‘park the bus, park the bus’ from home fans, but their cheers were to be short-lived.
Kearns was fortunate to get away with an unforced error from Gary Boylan’s free kick, dropping a straightforward catch and inviting Casey to compete for the loose ball, but he was awarded the free.
The keeper wasn’t to be so lucky a minute later as he allowed Shane Griffin’s inswinging corner from the right to bounce in his six-yard box.
McLoughlin was in the right place to stick out a leg and record his second goal of the season, although he seemed as surprised as anybody to be gifted the opportunity.
The Students had a penalty shout just before the break as Paul Doyle’s cross bounced up onto the hand of McLoughlin, but referee Ben Connolly correctly waved play on.
Things became more heated when Comerford was booked for a badly-time lunge on O’Neill after Casey had thrown his body in the way of Dan Tobin’s goalbound shot.
From the resulting delivery, Liam Scales made contact at the back post but he couldn’t forced home the leveller as Mark McNulty managed to work the ball around the post.
If the first half lacked action, the second half was all UCD but only really sparked into life when Comerford got his marching orders.
City put 10 men behind the ball in an effort to keep UCD at bay, while Conor Davis returned from injury to play the final eight minutes for the home side.
It was his strike partner Mahdy who made the telling contribution, however, as his well-struck volley from the edge of the box was fumbled into his own net by McNulty.
That clanger looked to have cost City two points, but O’Neill ensured all three points stayed in Belfield after McLoughlin stuck out a leg in injury time.
Kearns; Tobin, Scales, Collins, Dignam (Davis 82); O’Neill, Doyle, Molloy (O’Farrell 72); Farrugia, McClelland (McDonald 46), Mahdy.
McNulty; Boylan (Crowley 46), McLoughlin, Casey, McCarthy, Griffin; Comerford, Morrissey Buckley; Tilley (Smith 89), Cummins (Gillam 54).
Ben Connolly (Dublin).