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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019

Dundalk downed by Hajduk Split in Europa League qualifier

The visitors will take a 2-0 lead into next week’s second leg.

Patrick Hoban reacts to a missed chance for Dundalk.
Patrick Hoban reacts to a missed chance for Dundalk.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dundalk 0-2 Hajduk Split

WHILE DUNDALK’S PLAYERS warmed up on the Oriel Park pitch before kickoff, the PA announced that Sligo Rovers had doubled their lead against Rosenborg in Trondheim. An exceptional week for Irish clubs in Europe had just got a whole lot better.

No pressure lads, some might have thought as they made for the dressing rooms and their final instructions.

As it was, that pressure ultimately told On an Dundalk performance where at times they more than held their own. Stephen Kenny’s men will feel a 0-2 defeat to Croatia’s Hajduk Split doesn’t tell the whole story of a game where the Lilywhites made the running for large parts. That was though, after a slow start.

It took just nine minutes for Hajduk, managed by former Juventus defender Igor Tudor, to open the scoring with Dundalk failing to heed the lessons of the early play. Jean Evrad Kouassi released right back Avdija Vrsajevic, fresh from his goalscoring exploits for Bosnia at the World Cup last month, and his cross was met by the onrushing Mijo Caktas to head home.

The home side were sloppy in possession and lax in their marking leading to a tense moment or two in the Dundalk defence. But, when they went forward, they proved more than capable of causing a ripple in the Split rearguard.

Twice, Pat Hoban got his head to crosses from Dundalk’s right but on neither occasion did he manage to trouble goalkeeper Dante Stipeca.

In midfield, the Airtricity League leaders continued to give up the ball far too easily and Hajduk twice were allowed to get shots off from inside the area. It was Dundalk, however, who fashioned the best chances as the half wore on.

25 minutes in, characteristically tenacious play from Sean Gannon down the right saw him escape the attentions of Antonio Milic and cross for Hoban, who only managed to poke his shot against the post.

Just before the interval, Dane Massey broke well on the left hand side and pulled back for birthday boy Richie Towell but despite a superb drag back he could only curl his shot over the bar.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill was in attendance, the first senior national team manager to watch an Irish side in Europe since Brian Kerr, and he will have been pleased with what he saw from Dundalk.

Against relatively illustrious opponents – a club who’ve produced Niko Kranjcar, Nikica Jelavic, Dario Srna and Stipe Pletikosa – the Louth men were far more accomplished on the ball for long periods. Only poor decision making in the final third denied them the clear cut chances they required to fashion an equaliser.

In the second half, neither side created much for the most part. That was until the 75th minute, when Kouassi crossed to the back post where Nikola Vlasic finished expertly past Cherrie.

After an impressive cameo against Shamrock Rovers last weekend, new signing Donal McDermott made his European debut late on but couldn’t conjure the elusive goal. Another Gannon cross and another Horgan header that went just wide of the post was the closest they came.

While the result may bring to an end a stellar showing so far this year by Irish clubs in continental competition, Dundalk will go into next week’s return at the Stadion Poljund confident of at least scoring and ensuring the tie remains competitive until the end.

DUNDALK: Peter Cherrie, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, Chris Shields (Ruaidhri Higgins 73), Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan (David McMillan, 82), Darren Meenan, John Mountney (Donal McDermott, 57), Patrick Hoban.

Substitutes: Gabriel Sava, Mark Rossiter, Kurtis Byrne, Mark Griffin.

HAJDUK SPLIT: Dante Stipeca, Avdija Vrsajevic, Mario Maloca, Goran Milovic, Antonio Milic, Jean Evrad Kouassi (Josep Basic, 79), Nikola Vlasic, Filip Bradaric (Elvir Maloku, 81), Mijo Caktas, Anton Maglica (Mislav Andelkovic, 58), Sandro Gotal.

Substitutes: Dino Mikanovic, Zoran Nizic, Goran Jozinovic, Lovre Kalinic.

REFEREE: Markus Hameter (Austria).

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