Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Karel Delvoije/INPHO Alkmaar's Rens van Eijden with Daryl Horgan of Dundalk.
# Analysis
Dundalk show they belong at this level and more Europa League talking points
In addition, Man United’s lack of Europa League enthusiasm shines through.

Dundalk show they belong at this level

IF ANY DOUBTS about their ability to compete in Europe remained, Dundalk well and truly extinguished them with a brave performance away to AZ Alkmaar this evening.

Having gone 1-0 down and finding themselves reduced to 10 men after Stephen O’Donnell received a second booking for a rash challenge, lesser sides would have collapsed.

Nevertheless, Dundalk showed impressive resilience and were ultimately rewarded in the 89th minute, as Ciaran Kilduff’s powerful header made them €120,000 richer.

After Shamrock Rovers’ six consecutive losses in 2011-12, tonight’s result also means Dundalk are the first League of Ireland side ever to earn a point in the Europa League group stages.

After the spectacular triumph over BATE and creditable display against Legia Warsaw, the fact that they got a better result than Man United managed in Holland tonight epitomises how far Stephen Kenny has taken his team.

It is now without question that the Lilywhites belong at this level and are not simply there to make up the numbers.

Man United’s lack of Europa League love shines through in dismal display

Feyenoord v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League - Group A - De Kuip EMPICS Sport Feyenoord players celebrate after the game. EMPICS Sport

Manchester United ideally would prefer not to be playing Europa League football this season.

Manager Jose Mourinho’s antipathy for the competition has been made clear in the past and he did little to hide his frustration at the club’s hectic upcoming schedule during his pre-match press conference.

The club’s priority this season is clearly the Premier League and their lack of enthusiasm for the Europa League was obvious tonight.

From the decision to field a number of fringe players to their sluggish, lacklustre display full of errors and played at half-pace, it seemed as if many who took to the field would rather have been anywhere else.

Feyenoord admittedly were hardly much better, scoring a goal with one of their few chances — an effort which should have been ruled out for offside in the build-up. Yet Tonny Vilhena’s late winner added to Mourinho’s recent woe following the club’s demoralising loss in last weekend’s Manchester derby.

The Red Devils should still be strong enough to progress from a weak group and a few previously under-utilised players got 90 minutes under their belt, but the positives were otherwise few and far between this evening.

Celtic result looking better in hindsight

Celtic received plenty criticism after losing 2-0 in their Champions League playoff with Hapoel Be’er Sheva — a result that meant they narrowly progressed 5-4 on aggregate.

However, on the evidence of tonight’s result, maybe the performance was not as bad as initially thought.

The Israeli side went away to Inter and secured a highly impressive 2-0 win thanks to second-half goals from Miguel Vítor and Maor Buzaglo.

After their humiliating 7-0 defeat to Barcelona on Tuesday, perhaps seeing their former opponents doing so well in Italy will provide a small boost in morale to Brendan Rodgers and his deflated side.

Tadic’s moment of petulance

There was one moment of slight controversy in Southampton’s otherwise routine 3-0 win over Sparta Prague this evening.

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As Charlie Austin prepared to convert a penalty with the game at 0-0, Dusan Tadic bizarrely stepped in front of the ball and temporarily blocked the English striker from taking the spot kick, presumably assuming he could do a better job.

Tadic was then escorted out of the area by teammate Virgil van Dijk and Austin coolly dispatched the spot kick to put the team on their way to a comfortable win.

It may have ultimately made little difference to the outcome of the match, but it was still poor form from the Serbian attacker.

Trying to steal a penalty away from the designated taker is one of the great dressing room taboos in football. When Kevin Mirallas did similar at Everton last year, Sky pundit Gary Neville went so far as to brand the action “despicable”.

It may have hardly mattered in the overall context of the game, but Tadic still surely owes his teammates an apology for his childish behaviour.

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