Substitute John Martin played a key role as Dundalk overcame a stubborn FCB Magpies at Oriel Park on Thursday night to book their place in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League.
After a scoreless first leg in the scorching Gibraltar sun, it took Stephen O’Donnell’s men just three minutes to find the
lead. Talisman Patrick Hoban leapt the highest out of everyone in the box and headed home neatly from close range, off a delicious, whipped corner from Darragh Leahy.
The visitors carried a threat on the counter-attack and they stunned the home support in the 33rd minute when a thunderous volley from Spanish midfielder Joe flew into Nathan Shepperd’s top corner to draw the Magpies level.
That goal revved up the Oriel Park crowd as the interval approached, resulting in a tense finish to the first half. Dundalk pushed for the lead going into the second half but the teams went in at the break level at one goal apiece.
O’Donnell introduced Martin for Johannes Yli-Kokko at half time and the change proved to be a masterstroke as the substitute fired the Lilywhites into the lead on 48 minutes.
Ryan O’Kane’s maverick play on the left flank set Martin in and the Kilkenny-man showed great tenacity to finish at the second time of asking from an awkward angle to register his first-ever European goal.
It proved to be a fiery second half amidst multiple flashpoints, with both sides digging in deep to get the all-important next goal, but it was Dundalk who edged even further in front with seven minutes to play.
Hoban was played in on goal and when the striker looked up and unselfishly squared the ball to Martin, it took a deflection off the unfortunate Andre Dos Santos and rolled beyond goalkeeper Jaylan Hankins to give Dundalk some breathing space.
A two-goal lead heightened spirits amongst the Dundalk faithful and the volume levels cranked up a few decibels as the game entered the final stages.
Dundalk’s reward is a second-qualifying round date with Icelandic side KA Akureryi of Iceland, with the first leg scheduled to take place in Reykjavik next week.
DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd; Archie Davies, Andy Boyle, Louie Annesley, Darragh Leahy; Greg Sloggett, Connor Malley; Daniel Kelly, Johannes Yli-Kokko (John Martin HT), Ryan O’Kane; Patrick Hoban. Subs not used: Peter Cherrie (GK), Mark Byrne (GK), Alfie Lewis, Cameron Elliott, Hayden Muller, Robbie McCourt, Paul Doyle, Anthony Moyo, Callum Bonner, Dualta Honney, Mayowa Animasahun
FCB MAGPIES: Jaylan Hankins; Andre Dos Santos, Ruben Diaz, Olmo Gonzalez (Anthony Hernandez 85), Joseph Chipolina (Francisco Zuniga 8); Jamie Coombes (Julian Del Rio 85), Joe, Dan Bent (Carlos Garcia 71), Juan Arguez (Jose Giraldez 71); Jack Storer, Liam Nash. Subs not used: Matthew Silva (GK), Carlos Garcia, Kyle Casciaro, Scott Ballantine, Shay Jones.
REFEREE: Patrik Kolaric (Croatia).
Report by Nathan Fay.