Hajduk too strong for Dundalk in Oriel clash
DUNDALK'S hopes of progressing to the third qualifying round of the Europa League are hanging by a thread after Hajduk Split left Oriel Park with two away goals in the bag last night.
The Croatians' took an early lead when Mijo Caktas headed past Peter Cherrie after nine minutes.
Dundalk responded well to the setback with Patrick Hoban hitting the post before the break but the visitors stunned Oriel Park with a second goal by Nikola Vlasic with 14 minutes to play.
The result leaves Dundalk with a mountain to climb in the second leg at the Stadion Poljud next Thursday.
Despite being in pre-season, Hajduk started impressively and hit the front on nine minutes. Again, they found joy on the right with Ivory Coast winger Jean Evrad Kouassi and Bradaric involved before Vlasic's fantastic cross was headed home in style by Caktas.
Dundalk were given encouragement when Patrick Hoban glanced a Darren Meenan free-kick just past the post three minutes later.
Stephen Kenny's side finished the half strongly and they went within a whisker of drawing level in the 25th minute. Sean Gannon, who would have caught the onlooking Martin O'Neill's attention with a fine display, bullied Antonio Milic on the edge of the penalty area. His cross found Hoban but the striker's instinctive effort kissed the outside of the post.
Kenny introduced Donal McDermott for John Mountney just shy of the hour mark and the League of Ireland leaders upped the tempo after that but they found the Hajduk back four a tough nut to crack.
That momentum was well and truly checked in the 76th minute as Hajduk took firm control of the tie. A deflected ball found its way to Kouassi on the right and his cross was powered home at the far post by Vlasic.