Dundalk will have to score in Latvia next Wednesday to keep their Champions League dreams alive after a frustrating stalemate with Riga FC at Oriel Park tonight.
Vinny Perth’s side bossed possession for long stages of this first leg tie but lacked a cutting edge in the final third as they struggled to break down the Virsliga leaders.
Despite wave after wave of attack, they were met with an impenetrable defensive wall with centre-halves Antoijs Cernomordijs and Herdi Prenga brilliantly marshalling a defence that was well marshalled by Tomislav Saric.
Indeed, it took the SSE Airtricity League leaders just over an hour to test Roberts Ozols in the Riga goal as the visitors threatened to punish their complacency with some good chances of their own on the break.
The Latvians made life difficult for their opponents and will be the happier of the two sides ahead of next week’s second leg in Skonto Stadium. That said, if Dundalk can click in the final third then a clash with either FK Partizani or Qarabag in the next round is not beyond them.
They will feel their wingers will have more to offer away from home after failing to ever really get going last night.
It was a slightly nervous start from the hosts but those jitters were almost eased after just four minutes when Michael Duffy went close with a dipping volley.
Sean Hoare had two big chances in the space of as many minutes midway through the half. The first arrived on 21 minutes when he rose to meet Duffy’s corner only to head over from close range. Moments later a Duffy free found its way to him but his shot on the turn was to the left and wide.
Despite some dangerous crosses that came to nothing, it was only around the half-hour mark when Mihails Konevs’ side really threatened for the first time. Roger pulled an effort well wide on 29 minutes but Olegs Laizans almost grabbed a goal against the run of play two minutes later when his shot dipped awkwardly in front of Gary Rogers, who had to turn it around the post.
In the minutes before half-time Pat Hoban had a chance from McGrath’s cross that was just over.
The Lilywhites were to suffer a blow just before half-time, however, when Daniel Cleary and Chris Shields suffered a nasty collision which saw the latter having to be replaced at half-time by recent returnee Andy Boyle.
Dundalk continued to apply pressure on the restart and forced a first save from Ozols on 62 minutes when Jamie McGrath weaved his way in from the right past Cernomordijs only to see his toe-poked shot saved by the keeper at his near post.
As frustration began to build around Oriel Park, the visitors almost struck on the break 15 minutes from the end as Roger released Joel Bopesu on the left only for him to pull wide with only Rogers to beat.
After Hoare had another chance from a header saved by Ozols, substitute Dennis Rakels almost snatched a winner right at the death for Riga but his 93rd minute free was curled into the side-netting.
It’s still all to play for.
Dundalk FC: Rogers; Gannon, Cleary, Hoare, Jarvis; Shields (Boyle HT), McEleney; Mountney (Benson 58), McGrath (D Kelly 80), Duffy; Hoban. Subs not used: McCarey, Gartland, Massey, G Kelly.
Riga FC: Ozols; Petersons, Cernomordijs, Prenga, Rugins; Visnakovs, Saric, Laizans Bopesu; Roger (Rakels 79); Debelko. Subs not used: Uvarenko, Gabovs, Fjordorovs, Bilinski, Ibrahim, Stuglis.
Referee: Peter Kralović (SVK).