Despite a shaky start, the University of Kentucky men's soccer team rode a Jordan Wilson header in the 30th minute and solid defense to defeat No. 17 South Carolina 1-0 on Sunday and take over first place in Conference USA.
South Carolina, (7-5-1, 4-1 C-USA) entered the match fresh off a 2-1 loss to No. 18 N.C. State and was faced with the task of defeating a Kentucky team that had held four of its previous six opponents scoreless.
Instead, the Gamecocks became the seventh team No. 15 Kentucky has held scoreless this season. UK goalkeeper Callum Irving recorded four saves to set a new Kentucky record with 23 career shutouts.
"It's nice," Irving said of the record. "But like I said to the guys just now, it gets put on me, but it's a whole team effort every time."
Kentucky failed to get a shot off until the 14th minute. Wilson's goal in the 30th minute came after a yellow card was issued to South Carolina's Ive Burnett. Kentucky's Kristoffer Tollefsen placed a ball from the corner that Wilson headed in past a diving William Pyle.
"It was a great piece of play," Wilson said. "Kris sent a great ball, great delivery."
The goal was Wilson's first of the season.
With first place in the conference on the line, the Wildcats knew the Gamecocks would come out pressing in the second half. South Carolina had ample opportunities to equalize the game, but timely saves by Irving frustrated the Gamecocks.
"In the second half they were kind of coming at us," Irving said. "But the guys worked hard and we were just able to take away serious, serious chances that they had. So, its always comforting as a keeper to know that you have guys in front of you with quality to help you out."
Regardless of the small attendance, the game had a playoff atmosphere. Both teams played with an edge, and as a result 22 fouls were called and two yellow cards issued, one to each team.
After Kentucky's five-game winning streak was snapped in a 1-0 loss to Ohio State, the Wildcats said they needed a win with No. 9 Old Dominion on deck.
"The past two games we played against them last year we were up on them and they came back," Irving said of South Carolina. "One time we managed to beat them and the other time they beat us in the conference tournament. So, we knew 100 percent that they were going to be fighting all the way to the 90th minute."
Kentucky, the only undefeated team left in Conference USA play, held one of the nation's prolific scorers in check. South Carolina's Danny Deakin had just two shots, one on goal. Deakin ranked 13th in the country with eight goals in 13 games.
"The mentality of the guys has been really good recently," Irving said of the team's defense. "Everyone has been committed to the same cause."