Sloppy goal sets Dundalk stiff task in Iceland
Dundalk 1 1 FH Hafnarfjordur
FOR the second July in a row, deflation was the primary emotion at the end of a Champions League qualifier in Oriel Park.
The consolation this time around for Stephen Kenny's Dundalk is that they are still in the competition with a chance to cross the €1.2m hurdle in Iceland next week.
Home advantage has not helped the League of Ireland champions in Europe in recent seasons and they exited this stage last year following a scoreless draw with BATE Borisov.
They looked set to be bringing a lead to the second leg when David McMillan sent the sell-out crowd wild with a 66th minute opener.
But their momentum was halted by a familiar face to the natives, the Scottish striker Steven Lennon who had a short spell at Dundalk in 2010 that included a heavy European loss in Sofia.
The Louth outfit have come a long way in the intervening period, yet their ability to make the next step depends on progressing past this round and this was a lost opportunity.
FH are nowhere near the intimidating level of BATE Borisov and this 90 minutes proved they have vulnerabilities that could be exposed.
The flip side of that is they still have the quality to hurt sides that offer them encouragement and, after a bright start, Dundalk were guilty of that in a scoreless opening 45.
They lost their way after a promising opening, with uncertainty creeping in following an injury to Brian Gartland in an attempt to convert a corner.
Sub Paddy Barrett was readied when the medics signalled that the centre half was going to try and continue, even if it became clear from the restart that he was carrying a wrist injury.
As he tried to persevere through the pain barrier - he had to give up before the interval - Dundalk grew hesitant and that cheered the Icelandic champions who pressed on to force mistakes.
McMillan had caused problems for FH in the early stages and drew a yellow from Mali defender Kassim Doumbia due to persistent fouls, but the in-form striker was isolated as the Lilywhites struggled to get out of their half for a period with creative midfielders Patrick McEleney and Ronan Finn subdued.
They were nearly punished for this spell with keeper Gary Rogers pulling off a tremendous stop from Atli Gudnason from the remnants of a throw that bobbled around the area.
Still, it was Dundalk who should have gone in ahead with a Daryl Horgan free parried into the path of McMillan who scooped the rebound over the bar with former Manchester City keeper Gunnar Nielsen, a Faroe Islands international, watching helpless from the artificial turf.
From the restart, McEleney operated in a more advanced position in support of McMillan and the ex-Derry man, the replacement for Richie Towell, was hacked down by pursuer Bergsveinn Olafsson with an advance that culminated in another booking.
It was scrappy fare, though, and as the game entered its final quarter, Kenny was sending his attacking subs out to warm-up when a rapid counter brought the stadium to life.
FH lost their way in the centre of the park and Sean Gannon pounced to release McEleney who was aware of the unmarked McMillan racing through the centre and delivered the pinpoint cross that was swept home with a right footer for the striker's seventh goal in three matches.
The Icelandic top dogs for seven of the past 12 seasons were rattled and white shirts sensed a tremendous opportunity to press on.
McEleney's audacious attempt from the halfway line almost caught out Nielsen and the fact that left full Dane Massey was then able to overlap and test Nielsen was indicative of the flow of play. Stephen O'Donnell's midfield influence was important in this spell.
The key was doing the simple things right and a failure to do so cost them dearly. FH levelled courtesy of a straightforward cross into the area that the outstretched leg of Barrett sloppily diverted into the path of Lennon who did the rest.
That sucked the life from a venue that was heaving moments previously and the rest of the game was played out in a curious atmosphere. Kenny went in search of a winner by sending in Ciaran KIlduff for McMillan and the technically assured Robbie Benson for Mountney. They were unable to turn the screw, but Benson was called on for a late clearance as Thorainn Valdimarsson squared a dangerous ball across the box.
Defeat would have been a disaster. This tie will go to the wire.
Dundalk: Rogers, Gannon, Gartland (Barrett 43), Boyle, Massey; O'Donnell; Mountney (Benson 81) , Finn, McEleney, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 78)
FH: Nielsen, Hendrickx, Olafsson, Doumbia, Boovarsson; D Vidarsson (P Vidarsson 86) , Palsson; Valdimarsson, B Vidarsson, Gudnason (Hewson 80) ; Lennon
Referee: Nikola Popov (Bulgaria)