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Dundalk fight back to share spoils with Qarabag

Champions League
// 24 Jul 2019

Dundalk came from behind to keep their Champions League hopes very much alive at Oriel Park on Wednesday night, fighting back to earn a 1-1 draw with Qarabag in their second qualifying round first leg tie.

A headed Mahir Emreli goal on four minutes was the difference between the sides at the end of a first half dominated by the Azerbaijani champions, who could have lead by more at the break.

But a spirited second half performance from the Lilywhites was capped by a Patrick Hoban header to level the tie on 78 minutes, before Dane Massey and Michael Duffy both missed chances to win the game in the closing stages.

Nevertheless, after a rousing finish when they were very much on top at a noisy Oriel Park, Vinny Perth’s men will head to Baku next Wednesday knowing a place in the next round is all to play for.

On a warm summer’s evening in Co Louth, ​Dundalk started the game brightly, with a first sight of goal after just three minutes. Michael Duffy’s corner from the right found Andy Boyle at the far post and the centre-back’s header looped back across goal and over the bar.

But within a minute, Qarabag were in front. A corner at the other end of the pitch was headed down by Mahir Emreli and bounced between Gary Rogers at Patrick Hoban to find the net. The ball may have taken a deflection off the Dundalk striker on the way in.

The goal sucked the life out of the Oriel Park crowd for a short while and the Azerbaijani champions were almost two up before they had chance to recover, Slavchev heading over from a Qarabag break after Chris Shields had conceded possession in midfield.

The visitors – participants in European group stage competition for each of the last five seasons – started to show all their European pedigree as the half wore on, with Abdellah Zoubir in particular causing problems down the left hand side.

With the pressure mounting, Dundalk’s luck took a turn for the worse midway through the half, when Robbie Benson was forced off through injury, to be replaced by Sean Murray.

Zoubir’s influence grew and his 27th minute shot was blocked by Sean Hoare – Almeida dragging the rebound wide – before a jinking run past three defenders left him with a great shooting opportunity, only to drag his shot wide.

Qarabag came close to extending their lead twice as half-time approached, but were on both occasions by Gary Rogers, making his 42nd European appearance – a record for a League of Ireland player.

First the 37-year-old came sharply off his line on 40 minutes to save bravely at the feet of Slavchev, who had sprung the off-side trap, before Zoubir beat Chris Shields with a jinking run four minutes later only to sting the palms of Rogers with his shot.

The Lilywhites were happy to get into the break just a goal down, but there was a marked change in the pattern of the game in the second half, as the home side began to wrestle control back from the Azerbaijani champions.

A Patrick McEleney penalty claim was waved away on 49 minutes, after neat play down the Dundalk left between Hoban, Duffy and Massey, before the resulting corner saw Hoare volley wide from the edge of the box.

Five minutes later, Jamie McGrath picked the pocket of Qarabag’s Brazilian left-back Ailton to send Hoban clear down the right. His cross was met by McEleney, who couldn’t keep his shot down.

Murray saw a shot blocked moments later, before Qarabag danger-man Zoubir showed lovely skill to tee up Romero on the edge of the box on the hour, but he could only fire over, before he was denied by Rogers 10 minutes later.

On 78 minutes, a nice move down the Dundalk ended at the quick feet of Jamie McGrath, who made space for a shot that was deflected wide.

The resulting corner saw Dundalk break the deadlock, when Murray’s devilish inswinging free kick hit Slavchev at the back post under pressure from Boyle, the ball bouncing up to Pat Hoban who headed home from two yards to send Oriel Park into raptures.

From then on, the atmosphere in the old ground was at its cancophonous best and the home side rode the wave to dominate the closing stages.

Sean Gannon made a trademark burst down the right before teeing up Jamie McGrath, who couldn’t get enough power on the shot and Vagner saved.

As the clocked ticked into injury time, Hoare flicked a Murray free kick into the path of Massey, who controlled well before firing over and it felt like that was that, only for Michael Duffy to work his way into space for one final chance of the night, but his shot was straight at Vagner.

DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Sean Murray 27′); Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney (John Mountney 69′), Jamie McGrath; Patrick Hoban (capt, Georgie Kelly 83′)

Substitutes not used: Aaron McCarey (GK), Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis, Daniel Kelly.

Booked: None
Sent off: None

QARABAG FK: Da Silva Vagner; Maksim Medvedev (Abbas Hüseynov 53′), Rahil Mammadov, Rashad F. Sadygov, Ailton; Gara Garayev, Simeon Slavchev, Richard Almeida; Jaime Romero (Araz Abdullayev 87′), Abdellah Zoubir, Mahir Emreli

Substitutes not used: Sahruddin Mahammadaliyev (GK), Míchel, Filip Ozobić, Hajiaga Hajiyev

Booked: Ailton 45, Slavchev 62
Sent off: None 

Referee: Bartosz Frankowski (Poland)