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Dundalk left frustrated by Latvian opponents in Champions League qualifier

Vinny Perth’s men could not break down a stubborn Riga FC side.

Dundalk's Patrick McEleney and Chris Shields with Joel Bopesu and Ritvars Rugins of Riga FC.
Dundalk's Patrick McEleney and Chris Shields with Joel Bopesu and Ritvars Rugins of Riga FC.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Dundalk 0

Riga 0

IT WAS A frustrating night for Dundalk in tonight’s Champions League first-leg qualifier, as they were held to a 0-0 draw by a resolute Riga FC.

Sean Hoare went close with first-half efforts twice in quick succession for the Irish side, while Joel Bopescu could have won it for the visitors with a one-on-one towards the end of the second period.

Overall though, it was a scrappy stop-start game with neither side doing enough to claim victory.

Dundalk went into the game in decent form, sitting top of the League of Ireland, eight points ahead of nearest rivals Shamrock Rovers.

Riga, meanwhile, are also current table-toppers in Latvia, four points ahead of second-place RFS after 19 games. 

Jordan Flores was the only absentee for Vinny Perth’s side with a hip flexor problem. Otherwise, the Lilywhites had a fully fit squad to choose from, with their strength in depth emphasised by a strong bench that included Brian Gartland, Robbie Benson and recent signing Andy Boyle.

The visitors also started with an impressive-looking side. Midfielders Aleksejs Visnakovs and Olegs Laizans, and full-back Ritvars Ruins, had well over 100 caps between them at international level with Latvia.

Dundalk began brightly and went close inside the opening five minutes. Dean Jarvis’ quick throw found Michael Duffy, and the winger’s audacious effort from about 30 yards out narrowly missed the target.

That moment aside, however, there was a tentativeness about the opening stages, with neither team really threatening and plenty of misplaced passes frustrating the home crowd.

The visitors appeared content to sit back, offering little attacking threat, while allowing Dundalk to play in front of them.

The League of Ireland outfit did go close in the 21st minute though. Duffy’s corner was met by the head of Sean Hoare, but the defender’s attempt went narrowly off target.

Moments later, Hoare almost scored again. Duffy’s free kick on the right-hand side of the pitch was flicked on, and the centre back skillfully volleyed the ball on the turn, seeing his effort go the wrong side of the post.

Dundalk continued to dominate, but they did get a warning just after the half-hour mark. Olegs Laizans intercepted the ball in midfield and his long-distance strike needed to be parried behind for a corner by Gary Rogers, who had almost nothing to do prior to that moment.

John Mountney was seeing plenty of the ball down the right and shortly before the break, the winger’s low cross caused panic in the visitors’ defence, but the onrushing Pat Hoban just failed to connect with the ball.

As the first half approached its conclusion, Dan Cleary and Chris Shields both needed treatment after a nasty-looking collision. Shields came off worse and did not return in the second half.

It meant a reshuffle for the Lilywhites. Substitute Boyle slotted in at centre back, with Hoare taking Shields’ place as the sitting midfielder.

Riga began the re-start on the attack, as Roman Debelko’s effort from the edge of the area flew just wide.

The second period continued in a similar pattern to the first. The attacking likes of Duffy, McEleney and McGrath were finding themselves in promising positions at times, but the end product was invariably lacking. 

Just before the hour mark, Perth tried to shake things up, as a second change saw Mountney replaced by Benson

Shortly thereafter, a mazy run from McGrath caused havoc in the opposition penalty area, but the 22-year-old’s finish was tame and comfortably saved by Roberts Ozols.

There were groans with just over 20 minutes remaining, as another attempted through pass went astray, and the Lilywhites increasingly looked short on ideas when confronted by their well-organised opponents.

By this point, Dundalk’s defenders had barely been tested at all, with their sole function to start the attacks, as a resilient Riga assuredly soaked up wave after wave of Dundalk attack.

The hundred or so supporters that made the trip over to Ireland certainly sounded like they were enjoying themselves, with loud chants of ‘Riga’ and ‘Latvia’ audible throughout.

And it could have been an even better night for the visiting support, as Riga wasted a golden opportunity in the final 15 minutes. Hoare failed to win a tackle in midfield and the ball broke for Roger. He played through the onrushing Joel Bopescu on the left, and the winger’s near-post finish was inches wide.

The game became more open amid an intense final few minutes with Dundalk doing most of the pressing. Ultimately though, chances continued to elude them in a game that will not live long in the memory for the majority those who attended.

Ahead of next Wednesday’s second leg in Riga, the tie remains very much in the balance, with both sides likely to feel optimistic about their chances of progression.

Dundalk: 1. Gary Rogers; 2. Sean Gannon 21. Dan Cleary 4. Sean Hoare 33. Dean Jarvis 5. Chris Shields (Boyle 46) 8. John Mountney (Benson 59) 10. Jamie McGrath 11. Patrick McEleney 7. Michael Duffy (Daniel Kelly 80) 9. Patrick Hoban.

Subs: 3. Brian Gartland 12. Georgie Kelly 14. Dane Massey 18. Robbie Benson 20. Aaron McCarey 27. Daniel Kelly 44. Andy Boyle 

Riga: 12. Roberts Ozols 8. Ritvars Rugins 39. Herdi Prenga 34. Antonijs Cernomordijis 9. Armands Petersons 5. Olegs Laizans 25. Tomislav Saric 10. Aleksejs Visnakovs 20. Roger (Rakels 79) 27. Roman Debelko 95. Joel Bopescu

Subs: 1. Maksims Uvarenko 13. Vladislavs Gabovs 17. Vladislavs Fjodorovs 19. Kamil Bilinski 22. Absissalam Ibrahim 31. Elvis Stuglis 92. Deniss Rakels

Referee: Peter Kráľovic (Slovakia)

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy  / Reports from Oriel Park

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