Pro14: Ospreys 0-8 Ulster
|Pro14: Ospreys v Ulster|
|Ospreys (0) 0|
|Ulster (0) 8|
|Try: McCloskey Pen: Cooney|
Ulster boosted their Pro14 play-off hopes while denting Ospreys' ambitions in a defence-dominated encounter in Bridgend.
The visitors largely dominated territory, but also had to overcome an admirable defensive effort by the hosts.
Centre Stuart McCloskey broke the deadlock soon after the break following after a scoreless opening period.
John Cooney added a late penalty to deny Ospreys a losing bonus point.
Ulster rose two places to third in Conference B and while Ospreys remained third in Conference A, they are level on points with Connacht, who have a game in hand, as do Cardiff Blues who are two points behind.
There was welcome Six Nations news for Ireland boss Joe Schmidt, whose stretched lock resources were eased as Iain Henderson completed 80 minutes after another speedy recovery from a finger injury, having missed two rounds of international action.
Henderson was back among eight Ulster changes, while John Cooney and Jordi Murphy were released by Schmidt.
Wales lock Bradley Davies, 32, returned for Ospreys after a four-month lay-off, and although he limped off in the 54th minute, the problem was nothing worse than cramp.
Ospreys had no Wales squad players released while centre Scott Williams has been ruled out of the tournament by a back injury.
Full-back Dan Evans made his 100th league appearance for the region and played his role as defences dominated until McCloskey stylishly created and scored the opening try.
Ospreys return to their Liberty Stadium base to face Munster on Friday 22 February, while Ulster host Zebre the following day.
Ospreys boss Allen Clarke told BBC Sport Wales:
"We've lost control of our own destiny tonight. We've left an opportunity for teams to surpass us and that makes it difficult down the line.
"As ever there was plenty of effort from us, but we lacked a bit of quality, didn't we?
"The few opportunities that we got we weren't able to get across the whitewash.
"It felt a bit like a slow death, to be honest in terms of the scoreboard.
"You're hoping for a moment of magic and it obviously didn't come through."
Ulster backs coach Dwayne Peel told BBC Sport Wales:
"On the whole we're fairly pleased with large parts of the game, we put them under pressure and the Ospreys have got a good defence, so it was always going to be tough.
"But we came out after half-time and got a good try, Stuart McCloskey was excellent on his 100th cap.
"We're delighted with the win, it's a big block of three games for us, massive in the context of the league."
Ospreys: D Evans; Dirksen, Allen, Thomas-Wheeler, Morgan; S Davies (capt), Aubrey; Lay, Baldwin, Botha, Ashley, B Davies, Cracknell, S Cross, J King.
Replacements: Otten, Jenkins, Fia, Griffiths, McCusker, Morgan-Williams, Price, Giles.
Ulster: Nelson; Kernohan, Cave, McCloskey, Ludik; Lowry, Cooney; O'Sullivan, Herring, Moore, O'Connor (capt), Henderson, Ross, J Murphy, Timoney.
Replacements: Andrew, Warwick, O'Toole, Treadwell, Reidy, Shanahan, Hume, Lyttle.
Referee: Quinton Immelman (SARU)
Assistant referees: Dan Jones (WRU), Ben Breakspear (WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU).