The headlines could have read ‘Annihilation in Arnhem’ or equally ‘Victory over Vitesse’ but in the end Dundalk left the Netherlands last night with a very credible draw that gives them every hope of progression to the Europa Conference League play-offs.
Vinny Perth’s side were forced to weather a first half storm against Vitesse at the GelreDome in which the hosts only had a Matúš Bero goal to show for their efforts.
It then became the Patrick McEleney show in the second half as the 28-year-old scored an outstanding double to threaten a major upset.
Unfortunately, it was not to be for Vinny Perth’s side as Loïs Openda equalised a minute from the end before being sent-off for kicking out at Sam Stanton to put him out of next Thursday’s mouthwatering second leg in Tallaght Stadium.
Thomas Letsch’s side were on top right from the off and deservedly took the lead on 20 minutes.
Dundalk were caught on the break from a corner with Million Manhoef slipping Bero in for the Slovakian international to slot past Alessio Abibi.
While McEleney did hit the bar two minutes later, Dundalk needed Abibi to be outstanding after that and he was in pulling off several fine saves either side of half-time.
The Louth men grew into the game after that and equalised on 65 minutes when McEleney rose above Tomáš Hájek to steer a brilliant header to the top right hand corner from a Raivis Jurkovskis cross.
The visitors then hit the front on 76 minutes with a brilliant goal on the break. Patrick Hoban played a superb ball through for McEleney to race onto and just when he looked to have run out of legs and been caught by Danilho Doekhi he produced a stunning chip to lob Markus Schubert and make it 2-1.
The dream result was not to be however as Openda levelled with a stylish close-range finish a minute from the end after birthday boy Sonni Nattestad failed to deal with a cross into the box.
Openda then went from hero to villain when was sent off a minute later to put him out of the second leg.
Speaking afterwards Dundalk boss Perth backed both his sides to up their game in Tallaght next week.
“We are going to have to soak up a lot of pressure at times but ultimately they’ve got to score to beat us and that’s what you want coming into a home tie,” he said.
“I was disappointed in the goal we conceded late on because I felt for the last 20 minutes we were comfortable there and I didn’t see them creating a lot. They ran out of ideas a little bit but they’re getting closer to the season starting so they’ll improve next week so we’ve got to go up another level too but I feel I’ve got players who can go up to that next level,” said Perth.
Schubert; Manhoef (Oroz 83), Doekhi, Bazoer (Vonmoos 77), Hájek, Wittek; Bero, Gboho (Tannane 69), Tronstad; Frederiksen (Darfalou 69), Openda.
Abibi; Jurkovskis (Murray 84), Boyle, Nattestad, Leahy; Stanton, Sloggett; Kelly (Dummigan 48), McEleney (Zahibo 84), Duffy; McMillan (Hoban 59).
Anastasios Papapetrou (Greece).