UCD 0-4 Cork City

Cork City made it five consecutive victories in the SSE Airtricity League to keep tabs with leaders Dundalk as they strolled to a 4-0 win over relegation-threatened UCD at Belfield.

First-half goals from Ross Gaynor and Billy Dennehy put the visitors firmly in the driving seat before Garry Buckley created further daylight between the sides with a brace after Samir Belhout had been sent off.

John Caulfield’s side remain level on points with the Lilywhites at the summit with just two games remaining. All they can do is take care of their own business; they did not look like slipping up here.

Gaynor’s first goal in Cork colours – a thunderbolt from long range - set them on their way and shortly after, Dennehy converted from the spot after Johnny Dunleavy had been fouled inside the area.

Belhout’s dismissal encapsulated UCD’s woes and the visitors wrapped up the points through Buckley’s double, the second coming in the dying minutes.

While Dundalk remain the frontrunners to lift the trophy in a fortnight’s time, Cork are ensuring the title race goes down to the wire. 

Conversely, UCD are in freefall. Six consecutive defeats has left them in serious trouble. They still have their heads above water but only just.

A trip to the Brandywell in the penultimate round of fixtures is an ominous task but they need to find points from somewhere. They never looked like picking up anything from this game.

A bright start, during which they looked to push their superior opponents onto the back foot, provided their supporters with a cause for optimism. It didn’t last for long.

As much as their lack of firepower in the final third has contributed to their slide, it’s been an inability to stay compact and rigid at the back that has been most costly for UCD.

While the hosts had enjoyed much of the possession in an opening quarter fraught with tension, the game was lost within the space of ten minutes.

Dennehy gave them a forewarning with a low drive that shaved the outside of Conor O’Donnell’s upright after drifting infield off his wing unmarked. Minutes later, Gaynor was given just as much time and space - he made them pay.

UCD lost their discipline thereafter. As much as they directed their ire at the officials, they only had themselves to blame.

Douglas clumsily felled Dunleavy after the Cork captain had embarked on a rambling run from deep, beating Ian Ryan in the process.

Dennehy made no mistake from the spot to register his 11th goal of the campaign. He’s now scored in all three fixtures against the Students this term.

Moments after the half-hour mark, he nearly turned creator. A floated cross to the back post exposed the disjointed UCD rearguard but somehow O’Donnell scrambled across his goal to claw John O’Flynn’s close-range volley away before Robbie Creevy threw his body in front of Mark O’Sullivan’s goalbound follow-up.

That the Students’ first attempt on goal didn’t come until just before half-time tells its own story.

That Robbie Benson’s effort from range had the ball boys foraging in the trees behind the goal tells another.

Aaron Callaghan, with nothing to lose, rolled the dice by bringing Conor Cannon off the bench at the interval in search of a route back into the game. He hadn’t legislated for Belhout’s petulance, however.

Two bookings for him in the space of three minutes put an abrupt end to any UCD comeback. A rash kickout at John Kavanagh was closely followed by a late challenge on the same player, giving Padraigh Sutton little choice but to brandish a red card.

Cork reinforced their dominance as UCD sank deeper into the mire. Darren Dennehy rose highest to knock down a set-piece from the left into the path of Buckley and he did the rest, toe poking under the out-rushing O’Donnell.

His second was just as easy. Gaynor’s corner picked out Buckley and after his initial header had been saved, he made no mistake the second time.

Cork are now hoping Dundalk fluff their lines between now and a potential title showdown in a fortnight’s time.

UCD: Conor O’Donnell; Hugh Douglas, Ian Ryan, James Kavanagh, Gareth Matthews; Chris Mulhall (Timmy Molloy, 75’), Robbie Creevy, Robbie Benson, Ayman Ben Mohamed (Conor Cannon, 45’); Gary Burke (Colm Crowe, 64’); Samir Belhout.

Subs not used: Niall Corbet, Sean Coyne, Mark Langtry, Daniel Tobin.

Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Kavanagh (Josh O’Shea, 75’), Dan Murray, Darren Dennehy, Ross Gaynor; Garry Buckley, Johnny Dunleavy, Colin Healy, Billy Dennehy (Liam Kearney, 70’); John O’Flynn, Mark O’Sullivan (Dave O’Leary, 79’).

Subs not used: Cillian Morrison, Michael McSweeney, Rob Lehane, Kevin O’Brien.

Referee: Padraigh Sutton