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Riga hold firm to keep Dundalk scoreless

Champions League
// 10 Jul 2019

Dundalk will head to Riga next week with their UEFA Champions League first qualifying round tie in the balance after a 0-0 first leg draw on a tense night at Oriel Park.

The Lilywhites were left frustrated after failing to break down a resolute Riga defence, with first half efforts from Michael Duffy and Sean Hoare the closest they came to breaking the deadlock, whilst Jamie McGrath forced the only save from Riga goalkeeper Roberts Ozols after the break.

Vinny Perth’s men dominated possession for large periods on a rainy night on the Carrick Road, but the Latvian champions were defensively solid and kept the host’s clear-cut chances to a minimum.

The Oriel Park crowd were in fine voice at the return of Champions League football to Oriel Park for the first time since 2017 and Dundalk got off to the positive start they were hoping for.

With just four minutes on the clock, Riga were nearly caught out as a quick Dean Jarvis throw put Michael Duffy into space on the edge of the box. The winger hit a bouncing ball on the volley but it dipped and swerved just over the crossbar with Ozols beaten.

Dundalk came closest to taking the lead in the 21st minute, when Michael Duffy’s corner was met by a powerful Sean Hoare header, but the centre back saw it whistle narrowly past the top left corner of the net.

Hoare was back in the thick of it just two minutes later controlling a deflected Michael Duffy cross with a brilliant first touch and turning sharply to volley wide under pressure from Ritvars Rugins.

Dundalk hearts were in mouths briefly on 31 minutes, when Olegs Laizans tried his luck from 35 yards and, as the ball dipped onto the greasy surface, Gary Rogers palmed it around the post.

Patrick Hoban was in the thick of the action as half-time approached. First he was denied by a last ditch challenge from Herdi Prenga after exchanging passes with John Mountney, before the striker headed over from eight-yards out being picked out by Jamie McGrath with a left-wing cross.

Dundalk’s fortunes took a turn for the worse on the stroke of half time, as a calamitous mix-up between Chris Shields and Daniel Cleary saw the two collide with a sickening clash of heads.

Shields made it through until half-time, but he failed to reappear after the break, replaced by Andy Boyle, who slotted into the back four with Hoare moving into midfield.

The visitors started the half on the front foot and Gary Rogers was forced to tip a well-struck Roman Debelko effort around his left-hand post at full stretch.

It was otherwise a cagey opening to the second half and the introduction of Robbie Benson – in place of John Mountney – just shy of the hour mark helped the hosts to up the tempo as the midfielder immediately began to get on the ball.

Soon after, with 62 minutes on the clock, Jamie McGrath cut in from the right flank – moved there after Mountney’s departure – and jinked past two or three Riga defenders before side-footing the ball straight at Ozols.

Within a minute, Pat Hoban held the ball up well before sliding Michael Duffy in down the left, but Petersons recovered well to make a sliding block to cut out the Derryman’s shot.

Dundalk had the better of things for the next 10 minutes or so, but the next chance came the way of the visitors, as Bopesu got in behind Sean Gannon before striking a poor left-foot shot wide of Rogers’ near post.

A tight game opened up in the last 10-15 minutes and, after introducing Daniel Kelly for Jamie McGrath, Dundalk twice came close. First, Michael Duffy flashed a shot across goal from the edge of the box on 83 minutes, before Hoare glanced a Duffy free kick straight at Ozols with two minutes left.

The Oriel Park faithful continued to roar Dundalk on for a winner, but their hearts were in their mouths in injury time as Dean Jarvis brought down Debelko right on the edge of the box.

Substitute Deniss Rakels clipped the free kick over the wall with his right foot and, with 3,000 people holding their collective breath, it whistled narrowly wide of the near post and into the side netting for what would be the last action of the night.

The Lilywhites were left to rue a lack of precision in the final third but they will head to Latvia next week confident of finding a chink in the armour of a resolute Riga defence, as they search for what could prove to be a vital away goal.

DUNDALK: Rogers (GK); Gannon, Cleary, Hoare, Jarvis; Shields (Boyle HT), McEleney, McGrath (D Kelly 80); Mountney (Benson 58), Hoban, Duffy
Subs not used: McCarey (GK), Gartland, Massey, G Kelly
Booked: Jarvis (90)

RIGA: Ozols (GK); Petersons, Cernomordjlis, Prenga, Rugins; Visnakovs, Saric, Laizans, Bopesu; Roger (Rakels), Debelko
Subs not used: Uvaenko (GK), Gabovs, Fjodorovs, Bilinski, Ibrahim, Stuglis
Booked: Bopesu (22), Debelko (47), Saric (87)

Referee: Peter Kralovic (Slovakia)