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Wednesday 26 September 2018

Frustration as Kenny's side are held at Oriel but Europa bid is still on

Europa League: Dundalk 0 AEK Larnaca 0

Physical: Dundalk’s Dylan Connolly is fouled by AEK Larnaca’s Hector Hevel during the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round first-leg match at Oriel Park
Physical: Dundalk’s Dylan Connolly is fouled by AEK Larnaca’s Hector Hevel during the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round first-leg match at Oriel Park
Wrong call: Dundalk’s Patrick Hoban protests after being mistakenly sent off by referee Harald Lechner

All good things come to an end and for Dundalk, in this case it's the end of their long winning run, a series of 15 straight wins finished by a scoreless draw in Europe last night.

Whether Dundalk's run in the Europa League is also at an end we don't yet know, that outcome due in Cyprus next Thursday with the second leg of their second-round battle against AEK Larnaca.

Dundalk are still in Europe and are still in this tie, but after a tight, tense and at times enthralling 0-0 draw last night, they know they'll need more of a finishing touch and killer instinct to get past this Spanish-influenced Cypriot side, with seven Spaniards in the AEK starting XI last night.

Martin O'Neill was in Oriel Park a week earlier where he saw Michael Duffy - eligible for the Republic of Ireland despite his underage ties to Northern Ireland - score a stunning goal.

Decent

Duffy had three decent chances last night, the best of Dundalk's opportunities to score and he couldn't make them count, on a night when a 0-0 draw was probably a fair outcome, neither side quiet good enough to cut the other open.

The Austrian referee did little to endear himself to the home crowd, Mr Harald Lechner handing out far too many cards and drawing derision on himself in the second half when he showed a yellow card, and then a red one, to Dundalk striker Pat Hoban for his protests after a high challenge on the AEK keeper, only for the ref to be told that Hoban had not in fact been booked earlier, so the Galway lad got a reprieve and got to stay on the field.

Despite having home advantage, and a full house, Dundalk knew they'd not get everything their own way, evidence of that when the referee booked left back Dane Massey as early as the fourth minute, but the defender is still eligible top play in next week's second leg despite picking up his second yellow of their European campaign.

The first threat from the visitors came on seven minutes, from experienced Macedonian international Ivan Trickovski, who scored for his national team against Ireland in a Euro 2012 qualifier.

Dundalk showed their mettle immediately after that, going on the counter-attack as a chance fell for Duffy and the Derry lad perhaps panicked with his finish, which was off target.

AEK came very close to scoring on 29 minutes, Seán Hoare needed to put his body on the line and block, without conceding a penalty, as Joan Tomas readied himself for a shot.

In attack, it was all bits and pieces from Dundalk and the sides traded chances in the early stages of the second half, Rogers forced to clear from Acoran while at the other end, Hoban did his best to open the scoring, but was frustrated by Spanish keeper Tono.

Earned

Hoban earned the ire of the referee with his challenge on the keeper, but he had a frustrating night overall, few chances for the free-scoring striker here. Duffy was close again on 76 minutes when perhaps he could have found the target.

Even the addition of Patrick McEleney off the bench, his debut in a second spell with the club, could not spark something for Kenny's side, who now regroup for Sunday's league test at home to Bohemians before that jaunt to Cyrpus.

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