Wednesday 23 January 2019

O'Donnell: We were competitive but we wanted points at Zenit

Zenit St Petersburg goalkeeper Mikhail Kerzhakov sees Dundalk’s Patrick McEleney shot come off the woodwork
Zenit St Petersburg goalkeeper Mikhail Kerzhakov sees Dundalk’s Patrick McEleney shot come off the woodwork

Over 180 minutes, they ran the mighty Zenit St Petersburg close and came away with nothing.

Yet there's still a race to be run, in Europe, for Dundalk as progress to the knock-outs stages of the Europa League is still a very realistic objective, despite back to back losses in the competition.

Events in Russia last night, with Zenit's 2-1 win thanks to a goal in each half from the impressive Brazilian Giuliano, who managed to outshine a relatively quiet Axel Witsel, means that Zenit are through to the last-32 of the Europa League, their aim of winning it to add to a previous UEFA Cup success still on the cards.

But a draw in the other group game between AZ Alkmaar and Maccabi Tel Aviv leaves Dundalk in with a chance of making it through along with Zenit.

"We were competitive again last night but we are beyond that stage now, we want to get points," Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell, on for the second half last night as a sub, told the Herald.

"The result in the other game in the group last night suits us, it's a mini play-off now between us and the other two teams.

"It's a frustration to lose twice to Zenit but we have to be realistic too, we have the smallest budget in the competition and they have a massive budget, that's the black and white of it, you will be under the cosh against a side like Zenit, especially away, you try and ride that and take the confidence from creating your own chances.

"But if you'd told us two years ago that we'd be gutted to end up with two 2-1 defeats to Zenit, well you know we are on the right track," added the Galway native.

"We don't want pats on the back for getting zero points from the two games, we can play better, it would have been worse if we'd played to the best of our ability last night and lost, then you wonder where you go from there.

"There is plenty of scope for improvement, and second place is still there. We have AZ at home in the next game, it's a play-off between the three of us now, may the best team win."

With Patrick McEleney's effort denied by the woodwork, the honour of scoring Dundalk's goal fell to Daryl Horgan and team-mate McEleney feels that Horgan has now elevated himself to yet another level. "The world is Daryl's oyster now and the only way is up for him. It's just brilliant to have him," said McEleney.

"The goal was ridiculous. He's unbelievable and it's great to play along with him. We are just very lucky to have him. Long may it continue for us..

"We made a couple of mistakes in Tallaght against Zenit and we got punished here too. These players punish you. But I think we can be proud; we pushed them all the way twice coming out here into this environment. It's still in our hands and we'll look forward to the next two games."

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