Ryan Byrne/INPHO Pat Hoban celebrates scoring Dundalk's equaliser.
# grandstand finish
Hoban strikes late to hand Dundalk a Champions League lifeline against Qarabag
It finished 1-1 this evening at Oriel Park.

Dundalk 1

Qarabag FK 1

David Sneyd reports from Oriel Park

THESE ARE THE occasions that enticed Dundalk’s American owners to take control at Oriel Park.

And this was a night to give those in power of the investment firm Peak6 just that little bit more confidence that regular qualification to the group stages of European competition is not a futile ambition.

Patrick Hoban’s 77th-minute header, an exercise in supreme goal poaching inside the six-yard box, gives them belief against Qarabag in Baku next week.

The champions of Azerbaijan have that crucial away goal – courtesy of a deflection off Hoban in a similar area to where he levelled the tie – and, in truth, they should well have had this game put to bed by half-time.

Such was the madness of an exhilarating final quarter, it was the home players who left the field disappointed not to have secured victory.

Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy and, in the final seconds of injury-time, Dane Massey all came agonisingly close to beating Vagner in the Qarbag goal.

But the home fans were not despondent with this draw. Oriel Park, packed to the rafters and with Ireland manager Mick McCarthy on the edge of his seat, rose to their feet to applaud at the end of it all.

There is much to do in Baku but Hoban’s goal, and this late rally, provides hope. But it will not be blind.

Dundalk were out of sorts until Hoban pounced and, crucially, the Azeris couldn’t capitalise. If they show such profligacy in the return, and Dundalk deliver another masterclass on their travels, glory could yet beckon.

When Peak6, the Chicago-based consortium, landed in Louth at the end of 2017, they laid out their vision and it was one that included regular European football.

Indeed, it was Dundalk’s displays under Stephen Kenny in the Europa League group stage the year before which put the Lilywhites on their radar.

When Riga were put to the sword in the last round, Dundalk chairman Mike Treacy hailed Qarabag as role models and the example they are hoping to follow.

The Azeri champions have reached the group stages of European competition in each of the last five seasons – once breaking through the glass ceiling of the Champions League in 2017/18 – and it showed here.

The perfect illustration of the nerves and poor decision making which littered Dundalk’s game in the first half came after only four minutes when the visitors were gifted the opener. Centre back Sean Hoare’s attempt at a back pass to goalkeeper Gary Rogers near his own halfway line, after a poor piece of control put him under pressure, resulted in a needless corner.

Emreli leaped above Dane Massey to make a connection with a header and, while it looked to be heading for the corner, a deflection off Hoban left Rogers with little time to react and it creeped it closer to the centre of the goal.

It was an agonising way to concede and Dundalk struggled to get a handle on the tie until they were given a chance to catch their breath at the break. The respite was needed.

Abdellahh Zoubir, the 27-year-old French journeyman, sparkled on the left side of a three-man attack. Qarabag is the sixth club of his career – a loan spell with Hibernian under Pat Fenlon is also on his CV – and it appears he is a talent destined to wander under the radar.

Here he was the star of the show, providing bursts of speed, skill and precision.

It was his perfectly-weighted through ball from the middle of the pitch which sent Simeon Slavchev through one-on-one with Rogers.

The Dundalk goalkeeper, now the League of Ireland’s record European appearance holder with 42, was out quickly to smother the attempted dink.

Zoubir’s threat was relentless and he fired another couple of shots, one which Rogers claimed, the other flashing wide.

Slowly, Qarabag seemed content with what they had and it was in the 77th minute that Hoban made them pay for taking their foot off the gas. The striker reacted first to a breaking ball in the box from a corner and nodded past Vagner for his first goal of Champions League qualifying.

He was substituted moments later but Dundalk continued to threaten.

Duffy fired a shot wide at the near post, McGrath seemed to be caught by surprise with an effort from the edge of the box while Massey blazed over right at the death.

But Dundalk live on.


Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Sean Murray, 27); Jamie McGrath, Patrick McEleney (John Mountney, 69), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (c) (Georgie Kelly 83).

Qarabag FK: Vagner; Maksim Medvedev (Abbas Huseynov, 53), Rahil Mammadov, Rashad F. Sadygov (c), Ailton; Gara Garayev; Simeon Slavchev, Richard Almeida; Jaime Romero (Araz Abdullayev, 87), Mahir Emerli, Abdellah Zoubir.

Referee: B. Frankowski

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