Brave Drogs undone by late Aliyev strike
Drogheda United 1
Dynamo Kiev 2
Tuesday night’s Champions League tie went down in the record books as a home defeat for Drogheda – but it must be a contender for the best ever performance by a League of Ireland side in Europe.
Paul Doolin’s men were given little chance by the bookies against a Kiev side who have qualified for the group stages in 10 of the last 11 seasons and boast a squad packed with experienced internationals.
But they played a full part in a magnificent second qualifying round match in which both sides seemed to abandon the cautious approach which tends to prevail in European competitions.
There were no surprises in the Drogheda line-up, unchanged from that which defeated Levadia Tallinn in Estonia last week, although the decision to wear their new turquoise Champions League shirts for the first time would certainly have caught the Ukrainians unaware!
After a minute’s silence in memory of Ukraine’s victims of flooding the day before, the game quickly burst into life, with both sides showing a refreshing inclination to attack.
Artem Milevsky wasted a great chance to put the visitors ahead when he diverted Andriy Nesmachniy’s cross wide from inside the six-yard box.
But Drogheda had a decent shout for a penalty in the ninth minute when Nesmachniy appeared to handle Joe Kendrick’s cross on the ground, and moments later Adam Hughes tested Oleksandr Shovkovsky in the Kiev goal with a header.
Shovkovsky then had to dive to his right to keep out Ollie Cahill’s angled shot after the former Shelbourne star sprinted forward from the centre circle.
But the Ukrainians seemed to step up another two gears for a 10-minute spell and eventually made one opportunity count.
Milevsky forced a brilliant tip-over save from Jamie Ewings who then stopped e6 million signing Ognjen Vukojevic’s low shot with his feet, but the keeper’s luck ran out on 23 minutes when he could only parry a free kick from the right and Taras Mykhalik sent a diagonal shot trickling into the net from 10 yards.
Another Drogheda penalty claim went unanswered in the 30th minute when Fahrudin Kuduzovic’s dangerous cross was clearly handled by Mykhalik as he attempted to make a block on the byeline, and although Milevsky and Tiberiu Ghioane went close to extending Kiev’s lead, Drogheda were by no means outclassed.
Paul Keegan was particularly lively in the centre of the field, while Kuduzovic looked sharp and Eamon Zayed seemed much sharper than in recent games as he led the attack.
However, even the most optimistic Drogheda supporter could not have predicted that their favourites would be level within two minutes of the restart.
Typically, Cahill was involved, picking out the run of Kuduzovic. The Bosnian chipped a delightful ball forward for Hughes whose glancing header seemed to be brilliantly parried by Shovkovsky.
However, the ball continued en route to the goal and had sufficient momentum to bounce over the line, sending the home fans into ecstasy.
Drogheda would have gladly settled for 1-1 before a ball was kicked, but buoyed by that equaliser they pushed on, harrying Kiev into mistakes and creating a number of half-chances.
The sheer class of the Ukrainians was abundantly clear, however, and Ismael Bangura blazed a great chance over the bar, before Oleksandr Aliev shot narrowly wide at the end of a slick four-man move. And Milos Ninkovic was denied at the back post when Stuart Byrne’s crucial header took the ball away from the on-rushing striker.
Vukojevic then saw his 20-yard shot bounce off the butt of Ewings’ right-hand post.
Drogheda then enjoyed their best spell of the second half. A quick break led by Cahill ended in disappointing fashion when Kuduzovic opted for a optimistic shot instead of looking for a better-placed teammate, but Shovkovsky needed to hold his nerve to save Graham Gartland’s header under his crossbar.
Gartland, who was magnificent throughout, then denied Tiberiu Ghioane and Ninkovic in quick succession with goal-saving challenges, while Shaun Maher made one similarly crucial tackle and Ewings dived to his right to keep out a Ghiotane header.
Cahill brought the crowd to their feet when he dribbled round Aliev and attacked down the left flank, but for once he over-hit his cross.
Shane Barrett replaced Kuduzovic for the last half-hour and quickly made his mark with a cross which was magnificently controlled by Zayed. However, an offside flag was raised and the move came to an abrupt halt.
At the other end, there were chants of ‘Scotland’s number one’ when Ewings somehow blocked Milevsky’s close-range shot, and Cahill clenched a fist in defiance after his crunching challenge on Brazilian defender Amancio Betao who had a two-yard start on the veteran midfielder.
The Drogs’ number 26 had a sighting of goal in the 78th minute when Richie Baker and Hughes combined to set him up, but Cahill momentarily lost his composure and fired high and wide of the target.
Ewings made another fine save from Ninkovic and substitute Artem Kravets, but it was heartbreak for the Drogs four minutes from time as Aliev shaped to cross the ball in from the left, but then unleashed a powerful drive which beat Ewings at his near post.
Right at the death the Boynesiders could have been all but out of the tie when Ninkovic lined up for a shot just inside the box, but yet again Ewings denied him with a fine save.
Drogheda fans warmly applauded their favourites at the end, despite the late sting in the tail, for they gave it their best shot and provided great entertainment throughout. And the Ukrainians won many friends too, and not just among their 300 supporters in the 4,700 crowd, for their dashing style of play, and even the referee’s sensible handling of the game helped make it an absolute joy to watch from start to finish.
Roll on next Wednesday’s second leg!
DROGHEDA UNITED – Ewings, Byrne, Maher, Gartland, Kendrick, Baker, Keegan, Hughes, Cahill, Kuduzovic, Zayed Subs: Barrett for Kuduzovic (62min), Shelley for Keegan (71min), O’Brien for Baker (90min). Subs not used: John Tambouras, Guy Bates, Ibrahima Iyane Thiam, Mikko Vilmunen.
DYNAMO KIEV – Shovkovsky, Betao, Ghioane, Vukojevic, Aliev, Bangoura, Diakhate, Mykhalik, Milevsky, Nesmachniy, Ninkovic. Subs: Kravets for Bangoura (61min), Shatskikh for Ghioane (80min). Subs not used: Lutsenko, Sablic, Morozyuk, Romanchuk.
Referee – Svein Oddvar Moen (Norway).