Dundalk denied as dream ends
Dundalk 0 - 0 Bate borisov (1-2 on aggregate)
Dundalk's Champions League hopes came to an end at Oriel Park last night after a scoreless draw put visitors BATE Borisov through to the next round on a 2-1 aggregate.
The home side started this game knowing that one goal would do, thanks to Dave McMillan's strike in Belarus last week, and that remained the situation right to the end, despite predictions that this game would have plenty of goals in it.
After a feverish build-up and the excitement generated by a lengthy rendition of the national anthem, the match started in a very lively manner.
The problem for Dundalk is that it was the Belarusian side which looked like doing all the scoring.
Vitaly Rodionov, lucky to be involved after his headbutt on Dane Massey, could have put them ahead inside two minutes but skied a volley over the bar as the Dundalk rearguard was caught napping.
This was typical of a period where Dundalk were struggling to get to grips with the game, aside from the composed Stephen O'Donnell.
Stephen Kenny had opted to restore Ronan Finn to his side in place of Chris Shields, and Darren Meenan for John Mountney and the two newcomers were unable to really make an impact as a physical BATE outfit initially coped pretty well with whatever Dundalk had to offer, even if their discomfort on the surface was apparent.
Rodionov had another effort blocked by O'Donnell before Ihar Stasevich cut in from the left to curl a several attempts off target.
Crucially, Dundalk survived this period and managed to settle after the first quarter, despite the inabiity to really get the dangerous Daryl Horgan into the game.
Unlike last week, BATE stuck pretty tight to the Galwegian as soon as he gained possession. Still, as Dundalk pressed, a clearcut opportunity followed as Nemanja Milunovic got himself in a muddle and Finn nipped in to release McMillan who weaved into the area and let fly with a left-footer that Sergei Chernik blocked.
It was a break that bred hope, yet the chance of the half fell to the yellow and blue shirted group stage regulars.
Sensing Dundalk's unease following a set piece that had Gary Rogers scrambling, they probed again and Rodionov found Stasevich in space behind Sean Gannon; his shot was brilliantly pushed onto the crossbar by Rogers.
Dundalk needed the whistle and the opportunity to regroup. The local mood had switched to apprehension; a false rumour swept the stands that Meenan had received a second yellow card in the tunnel. There were a few cheers when he trotted back out.
Within ten minutes he was replaced, however, as Kenny sent for the solidity of Shields in order to free Towell into a more attacking role. Until that point, he'd been quite subdued.
Finn switched to the right where his main task was to track roaming le ft full Filip Mladenovic and that didn't start well as the Serbian raced in behind to drill wide with Rogers beaten. Dundalk had to take risks, though, with BATE reasonably competent in terms of keeping them at arm's length.
As the clock ticked into its final quarter, and BATE sent in new recruit Nemanja Nikolic, a Montenegrin international, Ke nny urged his troops to lift it with a stirring run from Gannon lifting the decibel levels.
BATE, by contrast, carved openings through brief passages of play which hinted at their pedigree with Nikolic ghosting into the space to smash into the netting behind Rogers' goal from a purposeful foray.
Dundalk were hoping for a favourable outcome by dispatching crosses into the area with Horgan growing into the test.
With fifteen minutes to go, Kenny played his last card by calling Finn ashore and sending in Mountney, an individual that has developed a knack of striking at key moments.
However, despite battling gamely until the end, it was BATE who earned their ticket to the next round.