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Europa League: Dundalk 1 Molde 2


Michael Shields feels the pain of Dundalk’s loss

Michael Shields feels the pain of Dundalk’s loss

Michael Shields feels the pain of Dundalk’s loss

Regrets. Filippo Giovagnoli certainly had a few as he reflected on a game that slipped away from his Dundalk side.

The substitutions he felt he could have made earlier. Fatigue influenced by a congested fixture schedule. A deflection and a penalty that gave Molde something to show from the crucial period of pressure.

But there was realism in his reflections too, an understanding of why this night ended in bitter disappointment. The superior outfit got the job done.

Giovagnoli sent his side out with a game-plan to set up the upset, yet when they got themselves into position, the battery levels emptied as Molde found another gear. Giovagnoli criticised himself for not reacting quickly enough.

"I feel a little bit guilty about it," he sighed. "Maybe an earlier intervention with a few fresh players is something I should do but I didn't. I am a little bit disappointed with myself."

In time, the 49-year-old may come to see the positives. This display was a level above the victory in the playoff round that brought his side to this stage, but Molde are on another planet to KI Klaksvik.

UEFA regulations decreed that he wasn't able to stand in the technical area because he doesn't possess a Pro Licence. Instead of sitting on the bench, which was permitted, Giovagnoli located himself on the steps behind the dugout with Shane Keegan manning the sideline.

In an empty stadium, Giovagnoli's shouts were audible, but it was an unexpected irritation he could have done without. "This was really an uncomfortable night for me," he said.

Yet it was Molde that were suffering discomfort for large spells of the opening 45. Their coach Erling Moe wasn't surprised by Dundalk's organisation.

"It's the reason they are in the group stage," he asserted. "They are grown-up men."

Molde were nervy, conservative in their passing while Dundalk were strong in their application.

Giovagnoli went with a combination of youth and experience.

John Mountney, one of five starters who played in Stephen Kenny's opener in Alkmaar four years ago, was restored on the right side of midfield. Patrick McEleney, another member of that group, lost out to Sean Murray in the attacking midfield role.

Giovagnoli looked for Murray and Greg Sloggett to break forward from midfield areas in support of lone striker Patrick Hoban, yet they also had to be disciplined off the ball to the forefront of a Dundalk block that - crucially - was higher up the park in the first half compared to what follow afterwards.

Dundalk had to pick and choose their breaks, and homework that indicated a Molde weakness in preventing crosses was accurate.

Hoban controversially had a goal chalked off in the aftermath of a Michael Duffy delivery that caused strife but Molde remained sluggish in this department.

Dundalk capitalised with a team move off the back of a period of patient play which was accelerated by a quick one-two between Seán Gannon and Mountney with the latter's cross nodded home by the unmarked Murray.

The Londoner's equaliser away to Sheriff in the penultimate qualifying round was the first header of his career; he's now bagged three in a row from that route in Europe.

Molde could have few complaints about the half-time picture. Yet they sought to address it with a purposeful response and they were in full control from the restart. Their captain and playmaker Magnus Wolkff Eikrem, a one-time Manchester United player, was central to their game-plan.

"He was amazing," said Giovagnoli.

He conducted most of their better passages, with Dundalk pegged back from the early stages, struggling to advance.

"They pushed us back into the defensive third," added the Dundalk boss. "We lost a little bit of energy. I can't blame the players because they are playing every three days. Maybe I could have made the changes earlier."

Mistakes can be found in every concession, yet it was sheer weight of pressure that ultimately paid off with Etzaz Hussain's volley finding a way past Gary Rogers with the help of a deflection off Gannon. The game was 62 minutes old and Molde had the momentum.

Ten minutes later, they were ahead with sub Erling Knudtzon drawing a foul from the imbalanced Gannon. The Finnish official pointed to the spot and Ohi Omoijuanfo did the rest.

Giovagnoli rolled the dice, switching to a back three as part of a treble switch which saw both full-backs replaced and Dave McMillan summoned as a second striker. But Molde held firm to withstand a late Dundalk rally to see it out with roars of joy at the final whistle.

For Dundalk, stiffer tasks lie ahead. And they have to fit in a trek to Waterford before next Thursday's Emirates date with Arsenal.

"Every team we play is going to be ranked higher than us," said Rogers, miffed that Molde's only shots on target were their goals. "It's a very tough business."

And it gets tougher from here.