herald

Monday 5 December 2016

Dundalk can take the bate and survive

Lilywhites need one goal to see off heavyweights Borisov

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny speaks to his players during a training session at Oriel Park ahead of tonight’s Champions League second qualifying round second leg clash with BATE Borisov
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny speaks to his players during a training session at Oriel Park ahead of tonight’s Champions League second qualifying round second leg clash with BATE Borisov

As Dundalk prepare for one of the biggest nights of their European football history, their manager Stephen Kenny is well aware of the challenge that faces the League of Ireland champions who are 2-1 down after the first leg of the Champions League qualifying second round to Belarusians BATE Borisov.

"We're ready for tomorrow night. We're well prepared," Kenny said.

"BATE will be concerned. They know they're in a game and they will come here hungry and ready to get an away result.

"We don't suddenly think because we're at home, we're going to have it all our own way. There will be periods of the game where BATE are in the ascendency and that comes with the territory of playing against a big European team and it would be foolish not to recognise that," he added.

"From our point of view, we don't rely on any individual for goals. I think we have goals throughout the team and I do think we can score from nearly every part of the team."

Unsurprisingly, the bookies still price BATE up as the favourites to advance. They were the side that the Louthmen wanted to avoid, yet the reality is that the League of Ireland champions will always run into a quality opponent until they climb into a position where they are seeded.

Last week, Belarusian officials told their Irish counterparts that the key to their kingdom was one run that put them in the favourable pot for the second qualifying round phase.

For teams that lose at this juncture, it's all over and back to reality. Progression ensures two more ties and big bucks. Hence, it is the most pressurised 180 minutes of the tournament.

As the underdog in need of a break, this is why Kenny is so frustrated that UEFA have cleared BATE's star man Vitali Rodionov to play despite his admission of a headbutt on Dane Massey. He can't help but feel a little suspicious too, as BATE announced the news before Dundalk - who had lodged a complaint - heard anything from European football's governing body.

"He issued a public apology to Dane and in his statement said he was ready to take whatever sanctions UEFA gave him," said a mystified Kenny. "It sets a precedent. Is it ok to headbutt someone in a game? Is everyone treated equally? Is there a level playing field between clubs of different sizes? I thought his suspension was an absolute formality."

BATE coach Alyaksandr Yermakovich shrugged off the controversy after arriving in Oriel for training last night. "UEFA took this decision," he said, "We are definitely glad to have him."

He is concerned by the artificial surface. "We are not too happy about the pitch because we like natural grass," he continued, "But we think we will play much better."

Kenny, who must decide whether to recall Ronan Finn and drop either Chris Shields or John Mountney, is wary of veering into comparisons with great sides from the past.

"We still have it all to prove," he cautioned. "We've won the league one year and we've come from bottom to top so it's been a meteoric rise."

Dundalk v BATE BORISOV, LIVE RTE2 (KO 7.45)

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