Laird's Firecracker Gives UK 1-0 Win Over #9 UNM, 1st Place in C-USA

By Jacob Most at Bell Soccer Complex
Oct. 18, 2014 -

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Justin Laird's 31st-minute firecracker of a goal gave the Kentucky men's soccer team a 1-0 win over ninth-ranked New Mexico on Saturday at the Wendell and Vickie Bell Soccer Complex.
The UK defense held on for the remaining hour to claim its third victory over a top-25 team this year, and second in as many weeks.  UK also has wins this year over then-No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 21 UAB.

With the win, Kentucky (8-3-3, 3-0-2 C-USA) moved to the top of the C-USA table ahead of No. 4 Charlotte, which suffered its first league loss of the year against Old Dominion on Saturday. UK is on 11 points, while Charlotte is in second place with nine points having played one fewer game in the conference.

UK won its fourth straight game, extending its longest streak of the year, and also moved to unbeaten in its last six outings.

"Great performance, a lot of credit of course to New Mexico - current league champions - they have a couple really special players," UK head coach Johan Cedergren said. "We spent a lot of time on video making sure we had our organization and our tactics right. After the ODU game I said that was our best half, but this (first) half was our best half (of the season).

"The play in midfield and our possession and switching the field was spectacular. I think it kind of sums up how we scored the goal. With Stefan (Stojkovic) turning their defender inside out and then Justin with a little bit of pre-movement to get the defender to bite that he's going to go across; then he stays. A one-time volley that was just a really spectacular goal."

Callum Irving and the UK defense kept their ninth shutout of the season. Irving did not face a shot on goal in the first half, but he had to come up big on three spectacular saves in the second period.

UK's nine shutouts in 2014 ranks second in the nation behind only Syracuse.

The UK defense is allowing under a half a goal per game this year, as the Wildcats lowered their goals-against average to 0.41 per game, which would rank third nationally entering this week.

"To this point in the season Cally (Irving) has gotten a lot of publicity, and sometimes I think maybe its more the back-4 than Cally, but today he showed why he's one of the best goalies in the country. He did fantastic, I thought Jordan (Wilson) and Kaelon Fox did fantastic and Kristoffer Tollefsen showed a lot for the ball as well."

The match was played on a chilly evening before a wily bunch of 853 Wildcat fans, who were vocal all night with Blue-Vuzelas, especially late as UK held on to the result.

Laird kept up his scintillating form, connecting for his second goal in as many games and team-leading fifth of the year, to break the deadlock after half-an-hour.

Stefan Stojkovic received a ball along the right flank from Matt Quick, and Stojkovic beat his defender before playing a cross. The freshman forward found Laird alone on the left side of the 18-yard box and the senior striker timed his volley perfectly across goal and into right upper-90.

UK's defense was rarely troubled in the first half and the visitors failed to put a shot on frame against Preseason All-C-USA goalie Callum Irving.

Laird was lively all half, as he forced to solid saves from UNM goalie Jason Beaulieu on 10 minutes.

The Wildcats (7-3-3; 2-0-2 C-USA) entered Saturday in second place with eight points, while the Lobos (9-2-1; 2-1-0 C-USA) were tied for third on the league table with six points, having played one fewer game than UK. Fourth-ranked Charlotte tops the table on nine points from three games (three points for a win, one for a draw, none for a loss).

UK head coach Johan Cedergren named an unchanged side from the one which had won each of the last three games.
Napo Matsoso set up at the heart of the attack in the central attacking midfield role as he was coming off a career day vs. Marshall. Justin Laird led the UK line as well as the teams in goals scored in 2014 with four entering Wednesday's match.

Kentucky was unbeaten in C-USA play this year.

The matchup pitted the two best statistical defenses in Conference USA and among the nation's best against one another. The Wildcats lead C-USA and rank fifth nationally in goals against average at 0.44. The Lobos are second in C-USA and 14th in the nation at 0.57.

The Wildcats had a three-game winning streak and are 6-1-3 over their last 10 games, with wins at No. 1 Notre Dame & at No. 21 UAB.

UK's five-game unbeaten streak was the team's longest since 2010.

Kentucky was also coming off its best offensive performance of the season, as UK exploded for five goals in a comfortable win at Evansville on Wednesday.