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Dublin: 2°C Monday 12 April 2021

Courageous draw not enough to send Dundalk through to Champions League group stages

Tonight’s second leg with Legia Warsaw ended 1-1 at the Polish Army Stadium tonight.

Sean Gannon celebrates Dundalk's goal with scorer Robbie Benson.
Sean Gannon celebrates Dundalk's goal with scorer Robbie Benson.
Image: FotoOlimpik/Tomasz Jastrzebowski/INPHO

Ben Blake reports from the Polish Army Stadium in Warsaw

Legia Warsaw 1

Dundalk 1

(Legia Warsaw win 3-1 on aggregate)

DUNDALK’S DREAM of doing the unthinkable and qualifying for the Champions League proper was ended despite a magnificent performance tonight.

Trailing Legia Warsaw 2-0 from the first leg, the SSE Airtricity League side looked like they would claim a 1-0 win in front of a hostile crowd at the Polish Army Stadium before Michal Kucharczyck’s 92nd-minute strike.

Robbie Benson’s sweetly-struck volley had handed the Lilywhites a glimmer of hope early on, and Legia full-back Adam Hlousek was then sent off midway through the second half.

And while the visitors were unable to capitalise on their numerical advantage in the closing stages, they go into Friday’s Europa League group draw with their heads held high.

With captain Stephen O’Donnell suspended, manager Stephen Kenny brought Benson into the midfield, while Ronan Finn returned to the team in place of John Mountney.

Having got the job done in Dublin a week ago, Legia boss Besnik Hasi stuck with an unchanged team as the club looked to end a 21-year wait to reach the group stages of the competition.

The Dundalk Team The Dundalk team line out before kick-off. Source: FotoOlimpik/Tomasz Jastrzebowski/INPHO

Kenny had admitted his team would need to do “something remarkable” to get back into the tie, and they started brightly.

Benson’s turn of pace forced Steeven Langil into a foul that earned him the first booking of the night on seven minutes. Daryl Horgan’s 30-yard strike from the resulting free-kick didn’t trouble Arkadiusz Malarz in the Legia goal, though.

Legia soon began to find their feet, but it was the club from the Wee County who opened the scoring in stunning fashion on 19 minutes.

A Sean Gannon throw in the corner was played back to him by Patrick McEleney, and the full-back whipped the ball to the back post, where David McMillan headed back towards the penalty box.

It fell perfectly for the onrushing Benson to blast his volley into the roof of the net and momentarily silence the Legia crowd, whose chanting had been relentless from before kick-off.

The Poles were next to threaten as an outside-of-the-boot effort from Hlousek was tipped over by a fabulous fingertip save from Gary Rogers.

Gannon then had to make a timely goalmouth clearance from Vadis Odjidja’s cut-back, before Kucharczyk shot straight at the Dundalk keeper from distance and Tomasz Jodlowiec blazed over.

Robert Benson scores a goal Benson smashes home a volley. Source: FotoOlimpik/Tomasz Jastrzebowski/INPHO

We weren’t long into the second half when Langil got beyond Gannon and looked to pick out Nemanja Nikolic, who had dashed towards the six-yard box. Captain for the night Andy Boyle made a brilliantly interception, however.

Down the other end, Patrick McEleney skinned his man and clipped a cross in the direction of McMillan, but Legia skipper Michal Pazdan headed behind for a corner.

Seconds later, Horgan was set free down the right and, when his ball was put back across goal by McMillan in a scenario similar to the opening goal, Benson couldn’t keep his acrobatic overhead kick low enough to trouble Malarz.

On 67 minutes, the home side went down to ten men as Hlousek was handed a second yellow card for pulling back Finn.

McEleney had tame shot on 79 minutes and Kenny threw on Darren Meenan and Michael O’Connor but that crucial second goal didn’t look like it was coming.

Just as they did in the first leg, Legia struck in injury-time to put some gloss on the scoreline as Kucharczyk skipped past a couple of tired bodies to find the bottom corner.

LEGIA WARSAW: Malarz, Pazdan, Lewczuk, Broz, Jodlowiec, Langil (Guilherme 65), Odjidja, Moulin (Prijovic 90), Nikolic (Bereszynski 70), Hlousek, Kucharczyk.

DUNDALK: Rogers, Gannon, Boyle, Barrett, Massey, Shields (Meenan 83), Finn, Benson, Horgan, McEleney (M O’Connor 88) , McMillan.

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Ben Blake

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