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Saturday 3 December 2016

Dundalk left with nothing but make their point

Boyle: We can hold our heads up high despite loss

Dundalk’s Daryl Horgan celebrates his brilliant equaliser against Zenit St Petersburg at Stadion Pertrovskiy
Dundalk’s Daryl Horgan celebrates his brilliant equaliser against Zenit St Petersburg at Stadion Pertrovskiy

They are hardy boys, these Dundalk players.

On a night of sub-zero temperatures in the Russian winter, the pitch lined with snow and an orange ball needed, the star-studded home side tried to fend off the chill by wearing gloves and anything else that's permissible to keep out the cold.

But the Dundalk central defensive pairing of Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle, lads raised in the suburbs of Knocklyon and Lucan on the city's southside, opted to man up, donning short-sleeved shirts with the gloves, snoods and tights left behind in the kit bag.

Zenit got the goals, got the win and the points they needed to ensure progress to the knock-pit stages of the Europa League, their last two games in the group now a chance to rest players and plan for what's to come in 2017.

Zenit winning was always on the cards, but it's just hard to take for Dundalk that the Russian were gifted their lead goal, scored by Giuliano, after an error by Gartland.

Dundalk's response was swift, an equalising goal from Daryl Horgan and while the classy Giuliano emerged again to nick the winner 12 minutes from time, a point was made on a night when Dundalk got no points.

They still have a lot to play for, with a three-way tussle now between Dundalk, AZ and Maccabi Tel Aviv for second place and the right to join Zenit in the knock-out stages.

This was a tough night but Dundalk, as they have shown, have grit as well as skill.

"With the progress of the side and the football we played last night, we showed we can play another side to the game, we can dig in and defend for our lives," says defender Boyle, who will hope for more action next week with a place in the final Ireland squad for the World Cup tie in Austria.

"We'd shown in other games that we can play football and score goals.

Luck

"We can take heart with how we have done, AZ came to Russia and lost 5-0, we came here and we put up a fight. We knew we'd have to ride our luck, so to push them as far as we did in both ties, especially at home where they didn't really have a chance until late on, we can take heart, certainly.

"We dug in when it got tough as we knew they'd have the ball. You can't argue too much with the result as they had so many chances, but progress is realistic for us now.

"We said that at the start, getting out of the group was what we aimed for and we can take heart from this game, and look to the next two matches, we have taken points off AZ and Maccabi already, we're going into the last game with a chance and not many people would have given us that at the start."

Moral victories are poorly received in the Dundalk camp and today, as they fly home to prepare for Sunday's FAI Cup final - no rest for the successful - it will hurt that they have lost two in a row in the Europa League, and the manner of that first goal for Brian Gartland will also pain him, tough for Dundalk to take that the lead goal in this tie was a self-inflicted wound with a very basic error.

Had Zenit not been given that present of a lead goal, had Dundalk lasted until half time without conceding, the tie could have been different.,

Yet it's a fact that Zenit had to scrap for this win and Dundalk were more work for the Russians than AZ Alkmaar, beaten 5-0 on their trip to Russia on a night when the climate was far more pleasant that this blood-chilling cold night.

The snow on the ground led the Italian referee to call for an orange ball and orange pitch-markings, a new set of surroundings for Dundalk.

Having eased into the game in the opening 10 minutes, what followed was a virtual onslaught from Zenit, no surpise when they took the lead, a case of bad timing for the away side.

Horgan's well-taken goal soon after the restart caused ripples in the home support but a win was demanded and was given, Giuliano poking the ball over the line with 12 minutes left after a Zenit corner was not cleared.

A Patrick McEleny effort with nine minutes to play could have seen Dundalk equalise a second time, but Zenit were worthy of their win.

"It's a case of so close but so far, that's hitting the nail on the head," added Boyle. "In the end their quality showed, at times we rode our luck. We had chances of our own, we hit the bar a couple of times. But we can hold our heads up high, to run a side like Zenit that close, over two games, shows that we have come a long way."

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