Vinny Perth asked beforehand for his side to be brave — and they were — but ultimately the quality of Slovan Bratislava on the break proved decisive as Dundalk’s Europa League dreams came crashing down at Tallaght Stadium last night.
Two goals inside the opening 33 minutes from Rafael Ratão and Aleksandar Čavrić killed the game as a contest and while the Lilywhites never gave up, even briefly threatening a mini-revival when Michael Duffy pulled one back midway through the second half, this ultimately proved a challenge too far.
Much has been made of Dundalk’s lack of goals in Europe but last night, just as in last week’s first leg which the Slovakians won 1-0, they were met by an inspired performance from goalkeeper Dominik Greif who made numerous top saves throughout, including a penalty save from Patrick Hoban which would have made it 2-2 on the night with 16 minutes to go.
The failure to take their chances over the two legs coupled with costly errors at the back means there will be no trip to face PAOK for a place in the group stages and they must now concentrate on retaining their league title to ensure they can right the wrongs of this campaign 12 months from now.
The killer goal arrived early. There was just 12 minutes on the clock when Dundalk got caught on the break with Andraž Šporar’s cross from the right being headed back across goal by Ratão to the bottom right hand corner.
It was a cruel blow after a reasonably bright start from the Louth men with Jamie McGrath being denied by a superb stop from Greif after just 45 seconds.
Despite plenty of endeavour, the warning signs were there but not heeded on five minutes. A mistake by Andy Boyle saw Šporar get in behind and while he was kept out by Rogers, the follow-up broke to first leg goalscorer Davíd Holman who was only denied the opener by the backtracking Boyle.
Having conceded first, Dundalk now needed three and they went in search of it with a period of sustained pressure with Hoban seeing an effort blocked at close range by Šporar on 22 minutes before Chris Shields had an effort beaten away by Greif two minutes later with Sean Murray curling an effort inches wide of the right hand post on the half-hour mark.
The failure to take any of those chances then came back to bite the Lilywhites when they conceded a second on 33 minutes. Boyle failed to deal with Vasil Bozhikov’s pumped ball forward from the back initially and when he attempted to head back to Gary Rogers his effort was short, allowing Čavrić to nip in and effectively kill the tie.
Now needing four, the first continued to elude Dundalk as Greif saved from John Mountney’s low free kick moments later.
He continued to frustrate the League of Ireland champions in the second half, making fine saves to deny firstly Hoban and then substitute Sean Hoare just before the hour mark.
Tallaght Stadium heaved with hope, however, when Duffy pulled a goal back with a low finish to the bottom left hand corner from Dane Massey’s cut back on 71 minutes.
Dundalk were then awarded a penalty three minutes later. Patrick McEleney’s effort from range was pushed clear by Greif with Duffy’s follow up being blocked by the hand of Mitch Apau.
Unfortunately the hope of a dramatic turnaround was punctured when Hoban’s effort was saved by the legs of the Slovakian international.
Slovan then rubbed salt in Dundalk’s wounds on 93 minutes when they added a third on the break through substitute Erik Daniel. It’s onto Greece for them while for Perth’s side, their European adventure is over for another year.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Cleary (Hoare HT), Boyle, Massey; Shields, Murray (McEleney HT); Mountney, McGrath (G Kelly 79), Duffy; Hoban.
SLOVAN BRATISLAVA: Greif; Medveděv (Apau 65), Abena, Bozhikov, De Marco; Ljubičić, de Kamps; Ratão (Sukhotskiy 86), Holman, Čavrić (Daniel 62); Šporar.
Referee: Robert Schorgenhofer (Austria).