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Saturday 10 December 2016

Misses cost Dundalk on Euro stage

Dundalk’s David McMillan shoots to open the scoring during the Champions League second qualifying round first Leg match against FH Hafnarfjordur at Oriel Park in Dundalk. Picture Credit: Sportsfile
Dundalk’s David McMillan shoots to open the scoring during the Champions League second qualifying round first Leg match against FH Hafnarfjordur at Oriel Park in Dundalk. Picture Credit: Sportsfile
Steven Lennon equalises for Hafnarfjordur. Picture Credit: Sportsfile

The dream of Champions League progression is still there for Dundalk but the League of Ireland champions have it all to do in Iceland next week if they are to make it into the next round and claim the €1million pot which awaits them if they can pull it off.

Because last night's 1-1 draw at home to Icelandic side FH was a missed opportunity for Stephen Kenny's men, the inability to finish off chances and to hold on to a lead for longer than 11 minutes costing them.

The Lilywhites can play, and have played, better in Europe and there could be a big performance to come in the away leg next Wednesday, along the lines of Dundalk's superb display in Croatia against Hajduk Split two years ago. But a little more composure in front of goal, and concentration, could have seen them take a 1-0 lead into that away leg - instead it's FH who have the away goal, former Dundalk man Steven Lennon with that key goal for the Icelandic side.

FH came to Dundalk with a good European pedigree, this ambitious club hopeful of being the first side from Iceland to make an impact.

And their nous was evident in the way they dealt with the game, the visitors absorbing pressure from the home side early on, as was to be expected, and then trying to impose themselves on the game as the match went on.

It was evenly-poised at half time, the sides level at 0-0 in terms of goals scored and 1-1 in terms of saves made by the respective keepers.

Gary Rogers, who was kept very busy in goal in the club's most recent European battles against BATE Borisov and Hajduk Split, had been having a relatively quiet night until he was forced to make a stunning reaction save on 27 minutes, Attli Gudnason getting a shot on target after he weaved his way into the box from a well-worked throw in, and only for Rogers' intervention, it would have been the lead goal for the away side.

The home team suffered a blow just before half time when key defender Brian Gartland had to leave the action, suffering the after effects of a wrist injury picked up earlier in the half, Paddy Barrett on as a sub.

They did manage to carve out their best chance just after that. A minute from the break, Horgan whipped in a superb free kick and keeper Gunnar Nielsen, first choice keeper with the Faroe Islands national side, did well to save and while the rebound fell kindly to McMillan, his follow-up effort was well over the bar. Dundalk upped the tempo after the break, sensing of course that failure to score here would be a real missed opportunity.

Horgan and McEleney went close for the home side, Horgan just wide of the target with a well-struck free kick on 56 minutes.

On 65 minutes, Dundalk had the goal they needed, a fine move involving Gannon and John Mountney on the right hand side teeing up the chance for David McMillan, who calmly finished past Nielsen to claim his 13th goal of the season.

A dream goal from a dream move but the nightmare happened 11 minutes later. Scottish import Steven Lennon, who previously had a spell with Dundalk, was left free on the edge of the area following an error by sub Barrett and his fine finish levelled the scores, handing FH a valuable away goal and Dundalk now travel next week needing to score to stay in Europe.

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