Saturday 25 January 2020

Stephen Kenny wants Dundalk heroes to play Champions League playoff tie at the Aviva

David McMillan, left, of Dundalk celebrates after scoring his side's second goal with team-mate John Mountney during the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round 2nd Leg match between Dundalk and BATE Borisov at Tallaght Stadium in Tallaght, Co. Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
David McMillan, left, of Dundalk celebrates after scoring his side's second goal with team-mate John Mountney during the UEFA Champions League Third Qualifying Round 2nd Leg match between Dundalk and BATE Borisov at Tallaght Stadium in Tallaght, Co. Dublin. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

As biblical levels of rain fell on Tallaght, Dundalk found the key to their promised land. This was their greatest night.

Stephen Kenny's side produced a performance from the top drawer to write their names into Irish football history and move within 180 minutes of the Champions League proper.

Whatever happens, they will be engaged in European football until Christmas. Last night, their present came early with sweet revenge over BATE Borisov.

It was earned by a sensational second half display with Dundalk growing in confidence after Dave McMillan opened the scoring before the interval and producing a mature second 45 that yielded the result that their performance deserved.

Watch all three goals below:

McMillan grabbed the vital goals but every player covered themselves in glory. Four years after they stared extinction in the face, the Louth club have taken their seat at the top table.

Labouring on the finances risks taking the focus off the extent of the sporting achievement but the prizes are gamechanging.

They are guaranteed a figure in the region of €5.6m and qualification for the group stages of the Europa League if they lose in the final playoff round but Stephen Kenny has built belief by refusing to settle for chatter about the minimum return.

After knocking out a side that habitually qualifies for football's most lucrative club competition, Kenny will be telling his troops to believe they can go where no Irish side has gone before.

They are already assured of emulating Shamrock Rovers' achievements in reaching the Europa League group stage in 2011.

With Oriel Park unable to meet Champions League standard, Kenny has said that his preference is to play their next round game at the Aviva Stadium rather than Tallaght.

“I don’t really mind where we play,” he said. “Our away record is actually better, but it’s hard for the people of Dundalk to travel all the time.

“But they travelled in their numbers tonight and hopefully the wider public do get involved if it is the Aviva.

"I’d like to play at the Aviva, that would be my preference. But this was great to have it here and we were grateful to be here.”

As the clock approached half-time last night Dundalk were still in the tie and, in that regard, it was mission accomplished as Kenny had selected a side which gave the impression that was the priority.

Chris Shields and John Mountney came off the bench last week in an attempt to counter BATE dominance and they were selected from the outset to help in the physical exchanges.

It was a pragmatic strategy and, in the early stages, BATE seemed content to allow their hosts have the ball for periods of the game.

When they started to press on, though, Dundalk were guilty of errors in possession that caused nervy moments. Chances for Vitali Rodionov and Aleksei Rios from distance followed.

It was a reminder that sloppiness would be punished and, despite the loss of Ronan Finn to injury, Dundalk sharpened up their ball retention as the interval approached with substitute Patrick McEleney playing his part.

He also created the first major chance for the Irish side with his crossfield pass controlled expertly by Mountney who went for goal when he might have passed and Sergei Veramko saved.

Twelve months ago, Dundalk only created one chance of note in the decider and paid for Dave McMillan's profligacy. It was a different story this time around as a wonderful moment before the break took this tie off the script. The new and improved McMillan was at the end of it but Daryl Horgan was the architect.

With Martin O'Neill in attendance, the left winger backed up the case that he has the ability to make an impact at a higher level by turning nothing into something with quick feet on the left flank and the intelligence to scoop a right footed cross to the far post where McMillan shrugged off the presence of Denis Polyakov to dispatch an accurate header which found its target via the inside of the woodwork.

His tenth goal in six matches brought the near capacity crowd to its feet and changed the mood music of the interval. Dundalk fans dared to dream.

BATE were staring at a nightmare and brought their recent recruit, the prodigal son Alex Hleb, off the bench immediately.

Shields made a series of important blocks but an error led to a quick break that culminated with a slack defensive header from the otherwise solid Paddy Barrett and a right footer from Rios that shaved the post.

From that escape came the inspiration for victory. McEleney was now owning the stage, the winter recruit from the Derry making the ball stick at every opportunity and it was that assurance that forged another break.

His dart into the box was followed by a dink over a maze of bodies that the inrushing left full Dane Massey sent back into the danger zone where McMillan was in the right place again to divert a header into the gaping net.

After an hour, Dundalk were thirty minutes from glory. They hung on their nerves when a Hleb run resulted in a tiddler that veered off course.

BATE had to go fully commit now and sent in the goalscorer from the Borisov Arena, Mikhail Gordeichuk. However, the necessity for adventure left gaps at the other end and Dundalk threatened to add a third.

The heavens opened and BATE lost their composure. Dundalk held their nerve at the back and sensed the chance to kill the tie off. Sub Robbie Benson capitalised on BATE disharmony. With a calm finish, he started the party in Dundalk's temporary home.


Dundalk: Rogers, Gannon, Boyle, Barrett, Massey; Shields, O'Donnell; Mountney, Finn (McEleney 31), Horgan (Kilduff 90); McMillan (Benson 78)

BATE:  Veramko, Zhavnerchik (Signevich 81), Dubra, Polyakov, Pikk (Gordeichuk 64); Kendysh, Ivanic; Rios, Karnitski (Hleb 45), Stasevich; Rodionov

Referee: Jakob Kehlet (Denmark)

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