Dundalk Suffer Heavy Sofia Defeat
Are there any positives from Thursday night’s match in Sofia?Depends how we sum up this European experience. In 1967 Dundalk went to Budapest to take on Vasas and lost 9-1. The club looked upon it as a learning experience and, with a new stand and floodlights, came out of the period much stronger. In 1976, Jim McLaughlin’s Dundalk lost 6-0 at PSV Eindhoven. Again, the club didn’t panic, worry about what others thought or develop an inferiority complex – it learned from the experience and got back to work to qualify for Europe again and have some wonderful European nights. That’s the challenge Dundalk now face again.
This time two years ago Dundalk were labouring to a 2-1 win over Kildare County at Station Road. Two years of rapid progress need not come to a halt because of one heavy defeat at the hands of an excellent team. Levski officials revealed to their Dundalk guests that their budget is €7 million per year – and their team certainly lived up to that expense. Levski were exceptional. As Ian Foster stated after the game – the increase in class was too much for his team.
Dundalk were able to bring back Peter Cherrie for this match. He was to produce a string of world-class saves throughout the game but was unable to deal with an early corner that resulted in Yovov scoring after 12 minutes following a scramble in the six yard box. Daniel Mladnenov added a second a few moments later as he cut through the middle to finish precisely wide of Cherrie.
What might have been if some more luck had been afforded to young Ciaran McGuigan when he headed against a post from a Cawley free-kick? The ball fell back to the defender, deputising for the badly missed captain Liam Burns, but he was off balace and off-side when his follow up effort went wide of the target.
Levski played like they had a lot to prove to their own supporters after what was, for their standards, a poor domestic campaign. Garry Breen rescued Dundalk when he cleared off the line from the superb Drembele – while Peter Cherrie produced the first of his many great saves from Gadzhev. Tasevski forced Cherrie into an even better save when his stinging shot was pushed over the crossbar. With Dundalk trying to hold on to just a two goal deficit – Drembele scored an outstanding goal to make it 3-0 when he broke free from Hatswell and blasted the ball into the top corner of Cherrie’s near post giving the keeper no chance. That brought the toughest 45 minutes of Dundalk’s season to a close.
The fourth goal arrived within 45 seconds of the re-start and was the most disappointing goal of the night. Dundalk surrendered possession cheaply and allowed Mladenov to break the offside trap and chip the ball over the advancing Cherrie. While Levski continued to dominate – Dundalk deserve credit for trying to play themselves back into the game. Stephen Maher imposed himself on the game and was very unlucky when his effort was deflected over the bar. Alan Cawley’s set pieces were causing Levski problems and McGuigan again nearly scored when his header from Cawley’s corner went just wide. Hatswell also came close when his effort was cleared on the line.
Dembele was denied a hat-trick by two simply outstanding saves from Peter Cherrie as Dundalk worked hard to keep the Bulgarians at bay. Dembele found himself with plenty of room on both occasions and fired in well struck close range efforts that forced Cherrie into full strech saves. Jaozinho, singled out by Ian Foster as being Levski’s star player after the match, then struck the post with Cherrie saving from the rebound at his near post.
However, Cherrie was helpless to prevent a Ismail Isa from heading powerfully to the net from a magnificent Jaozinho cross to make it 5-0. Dundalk’s best moment came when substitute Steven Lennon, introduced for his debut on the hour mark, took on three Levski defenders before shooting from 25 yards. The Scot was incredibly unlucky to see his effort come back off the underside of the crossbar.
Salt was poured on the wound when Isa scored after Cherrie had saved his first effort. That was the final action of the game as Levsi fans roared their approval. A harsh lesson for Dundalk – the only way to put it right is to qualify for Europe again and draw upon this experience.
Levski: Petkov, Stanchev, Ivanov, Yovov, Minev, Mladenov, Jaozinho, Tasevski, Dembele, Gladzhev, Miliev.
Dundalk: Cherrie, Kelly, Hatswell, McGuigan, Breen, Cawley, Miller, Maher, Gaynor, Faz, Fenn. Subs: Lennon for Fenn, McGowan for Kudusovic.