Dundalk down but not out as BATE grab winner
BATE Borisov 1 Dundalk 0
Eventually the relentless pressure told, and although Dundalk will be disappointed with the manner in how they conceded the only goal of the game, they will take BATE Borisov back to Ireland with everything still to play for.
For 70 minutes of last night's Champions League qualifier first leg in Belarus, Dundalk managed to keep BATE out, but one lapse in concentration cost them dearly.
Last year, the League of Ireland champions left the same venue with the same one-goal deficit but this time, they couldn't snatch a crucial away goal. However, in truth, they will have been happy to have kept the damage to a minimum.
BATE dominated proceedings but grew more and more frustrated as the game wore on and they were unable to find a way through the Dundalk wall.
That was until Sean Gannon's sloppy error allowed Alexander Hleb to play substitute Mikhail Gordeichuk through to give his side a slender lead ahead of the second leg in Tallaght on Tuesday.
"I felt we didn't play well on the night but we're still in the tie," a disappointed Stephen Kenny reflected. "It's still just 1-0 and BATE played well.
"It was a tough turnaround being in Iceland, up all night, then going to Belarus and going again. We didn't play anywhere near as well as we can play but everyone put their body on the line and made sure that 1-0 was the minimum deficit.
"I wouldn't have taken 1-0 to be honest with you. I'm disappointed overall. But I think we're still in the tie.
"We can play better next week. We will have seven days so that will be a help. It shows we had guts at least, that we hung in there.
"We're devastated. We'll have to have a rethink and look at the match again and consider things. At the moment, it's one of disappointment, but 1-0 is the slenderest of margins."
The Lilywhites had keeper Gary Rogers to thank for keeping them in the tie as he pulled off a string of fine saves.
As much as Dundalk rode their luck, BATE were extremely lucky to finish the game with 11 players after Maksim Zhavnerchik caught visiting skipper Stephen O'Donnell with a nasty elbow after half an hour.
For all of the Belarusians' dominance in the first half, it was the visitors who had the best chance: Robbie Benson should have done better with a gilt-edged opportunity just after the half-hour mark.
BATE were always likely to dominate possession but Kenny will have been frustrated by his side's inability to keep the ball on the rare times that they managed to get it.
In last year's 2-1 defeat away from home, the feeling was that BATE had underestimated Dundalk, but that was certainly not the case last night as the hosts set about putting the tie to bed early on.
Ihar Stasevich was Dundalk's chief tormentor down the left and he gave Gannon a torrid time before the defender made the uncharacteristic error.
Stasevich's dipping shot that went narrowly over the crossbar after just three minutes was a sign of things to come but Dundalk managed to get to the break with the game still scoreless.
Paddy Barrett continued to deputise for the injured Brian Gartland and the centre-half's nerves were evident early on as he was caught in possession a couple of times before he crashed the ball back off his own crossbar.
O'Donnell had already made a crucial last-ditch tackle on Rodionov but Dundalk were even more relieved to see the ball bounce back off the bar when Barrett attempted to cut out Zhavnerchik's dangerous cross after 18 minutes.
Dundalk, however, might have taken the lead after half an hour when they broke well down the left wing. Daryl Horgan cleverly cut the ball back for Benson, who saw his shot unconvincingly palmed away by Veremko in the BATE goal.
Seven minutes later, Stasevich again beat Gannon far too easily and he should have done better with a shot that went straight at the grateful Rogers.
Dundalk continued to withstand the siege and just like his skipper had done earlier in the half, Dane Massey made a crucial intervention to deny what looked like a certain BATE goal at the back post.
Kenny did his best to ease the pressure by bringing on the more defensive-minded pair Chris Shields and John Mountney at the break but Rogers again had to make three saves inside the opening eight minutes of the second half.
All three saves were comfortable enough but the warning signs kept coming and it was unlikely that Dundalk were going to be able to keep the hosts out for the remainder of the game.
Rogers almost undid all of his earlier good work by gifting BATE an opener after a mix-up with Andy Boyle.
The referee however awarded a soft free-kick against Rodionov - much to the relief of the Lilywhites supporters who had made the long trip to Belarus.
BATE introduced Gordeichuk after 67 minutes and the man who scored for Belarus against Ireland at the end of May almost repeated the trick with his first touch but his shot was deflected wide.
Three minutes later, he made no mistake. A weary-looking Gannon sloppily gave the ball away to Hleb and the former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder played Gordeichuk through on goal and he beat Rogers at his near post. Dundalk could hardly have had any complaints about conceding a goal but it was certainly one that should have been avoided.
Rogers came to the rescue again when he kept out Stasevich's 83rd-minute drive and from the resulting corner Kaspars Dubra thumped a header back off the bar. There was still time left for Rogers to keep out another Stasevich shot as the visitors desperately held on.
The Dundalk players were out on their feet at the final whistle and although they were beaten on the night, the tie is still very much alive.
BATE Borisov - Veremko; Zhavnerchik (Hleb 59), Dubra, Polyakov, Pikk; Rios, Karnitski ((Volodko 88), Kendysh, Stasevich; Ivanic (Gordeichuk 68), Rodionov (c).
Dundalk - Rogers; Gannon, Boyle, Barrett, Massey; O'Donnell (c); Benson (Mountney h/t), McEleney (Shields h/t), Finn, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 77).
REF - Y Aranovskiy (UKR)