Clean sheet gives hope but Lilies may rue failure to put Riga away
Dundalk 0 Riga FC 0
Dundalk will have to hope that their remarkable record of scoring away from home in Europe can carry them through in the Champions League after they drew a blank on home soil last night.
Progress to the second qualifying round of the competition, and a meeting with opposition from Albania or Azerbaijan, is still very much in reach for the Co Louth club.
But if they do lose out, they will wonder if this 0-0 draw at home to Riga FC was the one that got away, as they were unable to convert long spells of possession into viable chances capable of troubling goalkeeper Roberts Ozols.
His opposite number, Gary Rogers, was also uninvolved for most of the game, Riga offering nothing more than a couple of shots from distance, though there was a late scare when the visitors were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box deep into injury-time, only for sub Deniss Rakels to waste the chance.
Dundalk can find the net on foreign soil, as they have scored at least once in 10 of their last 12 away ties in Europe, and the fact that they kept a clean sheet at home last night puts them in a decent position.
Before the game, Dundalk coach Vinny Perth had warned against the expectation from home supporters that progress from this tie would be straightforward, as the opposition were 'only' from Latvia.
However, the Latvian league is ranked just three places below the League of Ireland and Riga had a big weight behind them; three current Latvian internationals in their starting XI as well as Albanian international Herdi Prenga, and the dangerous Frenchman Joël Bopesu.
Dundalk found it hard to get a clear sight of goal in the initial exchanges, their best chances coming from set-pieces.
On 21 minutes Sean Hoare had a free header after Michael Duffy sent in a corner but Hoare's effort went over the bar.
A minute later Hoare threatened again, Duffy's free-kick nodded on by John Mountney and while the defender did well to get a shot in, it was off target.
Riga were content to sit back for long spells but could pose a threat when the mood took them.
Wide man Bopesu was a real danger, though he was on a yellow card from early on for pushing Sean Gannon in the face.
On 29 minutes a good move by the away side teed up an opportunity for Roger but the Brazilian wasted the chance and two minutes later Rogers had to pull off a save to make sure that a shot from Olegs Laizans, one of their Latvia internationals, stayed out.
Dundalk had Riga under pressure in the closing stages of the first half; three defenders needed to snuff out the danger from Pat Hoban after a good cross by Mountney.
Hoban then threatened with a header after a crisp pass by Jamie McGrath.
Dundalk's game-plan was disrupted when Chris Shields and Daniel Cleary clashed heads shortly before the break.
Shields was unable to come back for the second half which offered Andy Boyle a chance off the bench.
With Boyle on the pitch, Perth shuffled his pack and moved Hoare into midfield. And after the arrival of sub Robbie Benson for the last half-hour, Dundalk looked more of a threat.
But for all of their possession, Dundalk were unable to trouble goalkeeper Ozols that much.
McGrath came closest on 61 minutes, a well-worked move seeing McGrath go past three opponents and steal into the box, but his shot was straight at the goalkeeper.
Bopesu should have done better for Riga when he had a chance on 76 minutes.
At the other end Dundalk pressed for that lead goal but nothing would fall for Hoban, who cut a frustrated figure, and late efforts from Duffy and Hoare failed to worry the Latvian goalkeeper.
If Dundalk do come through the battle in Riga next week, they will play the winners of the tie between Partizani Tirana and Qarabag, who drew 0-0 in Albania last night.
DUNDALK - Rogers; Gannon, Hoare, Cleary, Jarvis; Shields (Boyle 46); Mountney (Benson 58), McEleney, McGrath (D Kelly 80), Duffy; Hoban.
RIGA - Ozols; Petersons, Cernomordijs, Prenga, Rugins; Laizans, Saric, Visnakovs; Roger (Rakels 77), Debelko, Bopesu.
REF - P Kralović (Slovakia).