Lilywhites knocked out by clinical Slovan
Dundalk’s European adventure is over for another year after a 3-1 defeat to Slovan Bratislava (4-1 on aggregate) saw them knocked out of the UEFA Europa League on a disappointing night in Tallaght.
A crucial away goal from on 12 minutes from Rafael Ratao put the Slovakian champions in the driving seat before Aleksander Cavric’s looping finish gave the Lilywhites a mountain to climb in the second half.
Michael Duffy’s 71st minute goal and a penalty award two minutes later gave Dundalk a glimmer of hope but Dominik Greif – again outstanding in the Slovan goal – saved Patrick Hoban’s spot-kick to end any hopes of a comeback, before substitute Erik Daniel’s injury time winner put a gloss on the scoreline.
Dundalk are left to lick their wounds and focus on the hunt for three domestic trophies, whilst Slovan progress to face PAOK of Greece in the play-off round, with a place in the Europa League group stages up for grabs.
On a cool late summer’s night in Tallaght that offered stark contrast to conditions for last week’s first leg, Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth named an unchanged side and his team started just where they had finished last week’s encounter – on the front foot.
In the opening minute, Dane Massey’s cross from the left was headed to Jamie McGrath on the edge of the box and the midfielder stung a right-foot shot that Greif did well to save down low to his right.
Dundalk were playing with urgency and looked to pen Slovan back into their own half, but the visitors fired a warning shot on five minutes with their first attack of the game. Andraz Sporar worked his way around Gary Rogers before David Holman’s shot was blocked on the line by Andy Boyle, who had positioned himself perfectly.
It was a warning that Dundalk didn’t heed. After openings at either end, the Slovakian champions took the lead on 12 minutes. Sporar broke down the Slovan right and his cross found Ratao in space at the far post. The Brazilian headed home with a calm diving finish for an away goal that meant the Lilywhites needed three goals to progress.
They immediately set out to find them, with a deflected Michael Duffy effort and a header over the bar by Daniel Cleary giving the home faithful reasons to cheer, before David Holman whistled a shot wide of Gary Rogers left hand post to remind them of Slovan’s danger.
A blocked Patrick Hoban chance on 22 minutes was followed by a deflected Chris Shields piledriver that Greif did well to save diving to his right, before Hoban had a shout for a penalty turned down as he tussled in the box with Myenty Abena.
Dundalk’s best chance of the half came on the half-hour mark, when Dane Massey found Sean Murray inside the box. The midfielder turned and found space before curling a right-foot effort towards the far post, but it wouldn’t curl enough and whistled narrowly past the upright.
Three minutes later and Dundalk had a mountain to climb. After a moment of hesitation in the Dundalk defence, Andy Boyle’s header back to goalkeeper Gary Rogers was underhit and Aleksandar Cavric nipped in to loft the ball over Rogers to put Slovan three up on aggregate.
John Mountney almost got the Lilywhites back in the game immediately when his low free kick from 20 yards was saved sharply by Greif to his right, before Slovan captain Vasil Bozhikov’s deflected header from a corner was well saved by Rogers.
With the interval appraoching, David Holman should have put Slovan three up, but he could only volley Bozhikov’s cross over the bar from close range. Nevertheless, Dundalk had it all to do after the interval.
A half-time double substitution saw Patrick McEleney and Sean Hoare replace Sean Murray and Daniel Cleary and Dundalk started the half on the front foot, with Duffy pulling a right-foot shot wide of the near post, before McEleney’s drive was deflected wide off Abena.
Dundalk continued to pile on the pressure and came close twice again within a minute, as Greif saved first from Hoban’s header before tipping a curling Sean Hoare effort wide with a brilliant diving stop to his left.
The Lilywhites got the reward their attacking play deserved on 71 minutes. Dane Massey did well down the left hand side and found Michael Duffy, who found space on the edge of the box and drilled home a low finish.
A glimmer of hope for the watching Lilywhites turned into the signs of belief two minutes later, when Patrick McEleney’s drive was well saved by Greif only for Hoban’s shot on the rebound to be blocked by the hand of substitute Mitch Apau.
Referee Robert Schörgenhofer pointed to the spot and Tallaght Stadium was readying itself for a barnstorming last 20 minutes, only for the diving Greif to save with his legs as Hoban sent his spot kick straight down the middle.
That save – another from the outstanding performer over the two legs – extinguished any lingering hopes that the home side had. and, as they continued to push for a late goal, the clinical visitors made it 3-1 on the night, as substitute Erik Daniel finished calmly on the counter at Gary Rogers’ near post.
It was a case of what-might-have-been for Vinny Perth’s men, who were left to rue the lack of an away goal from last week’s first leg in Bratislava.
The European dream is over for another year but, with an unbeaten domestic record stretching back four months, the Lilywhites will now lick their wounds and regroup ahead of Friday’s visit of Finn Harps, in the knowledge that there are still three domestic trophies up for grabs this term.
DUNDALK: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary (Sean Hoare, HT), Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Sean Murray (Patrick McEleney, HT); John Mountney, Jamie McGrath (Georgie Kelly, 79′), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (capt)
Substitutes not used: Aaron McCarey (GK), Brian Gartland, Cameron Dummigan, Daniel Kelly
Booked: McEleney 66′
Sent off: None
SLOVAN BRATISLAVA: Dominik Greif; Juric Medvedev (Mitch Apau, 65′), Leo Abena, Vasil Bozhikov (capt), Vernon de Marco; Marin Ljubicic, Joeri de Kamps; Aleksandar Cavric (Erik Daniel, 61′), David Holman, Rafael Ratao (Artem Sukhotskiy, 85′); Andraz Sporar
Substitutes not used: Michal Sulla (GK), Rabiu Ibrahim, David Strelec, Nono
Booked: Ljubicic 76′
Sent off: None
Referee: Robert Schörgenhofer (Austria)