Ten-men Dundalk overcame what looked to be a knockout blow from Stijn Wuytens to salvage a history-making point worth €120,000 against AZ Alkmaar in the AFAS Stadion last night.
Wuyten’s header on the hour mark was followed by a 71st-minute red card for Lilywhites captain Stephen O’Donnell. However, the League of Ireland champions rallied to rescue the most unlikely of points thanks to Ciaran Kilduff’s 89th-minute equaliser.
They then withstood waves of pressure in nine minutes of stoppage time to become the first Irish club to earn a point in Europe.
Manager Stephen Kenny believes Dundalk can make further inroads in Europe with back-to-back home games in Group D against Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zenit St Petersburg to come.
“For people in Ireland, it’s very important for them to know that just getting here is not it for us. We didn’t just qualify for the group and then say that’s it. It doesn’t have to end here,” said Kenny.
“We want to show we can do well in the group and try to get some results and we hope that supporters really get behind the team in Maccabi and Zenit over the next month. It’s an important result in that regard.”
While it wasn’t a victory on the night, Kenny admitted it felt slightly that way given the circumstances his side found themselves in, a goal down and a player down away from home.
“I said to the players after the game that we didn’t win the game but it felt like a win because being 1-0 down with a goal that we probably didn’t need to concede and then to have our captain sent off, to still have the belief to come back and get an equaliser was incredible. I thought my players were extremely courageous and I can’t speak highly enough of them.
“The second half obviously changed on the goal and the sending off. AZ looked like they’d get a second goal a few times but out of nowhere defenders just put their bodies on the line. We’ve had that spirit for the last three seasons and that’s why we’ve won titles. You can’t win anything without that determination to fight for each other,” said Kenny.
AZ, whose budget is €23m, showed their quality from the off when, after just 100 seconds, Alireza Jahanbakhsh broke in from the left to fire a shot off the butt of the right hand upright.
Despite that early scare, Dundalk began to grow into the game and on 12 minutes had their first shot on target when David McMillan beat Ron Vlaar on the right only to scuff his effort straight at Sergio Rochet.
Dane Massey and Daryl Horgan both fired chances over after that before the latter was denied by the legs of Rochet in the 34th minute after skipping past Rens van Eijden and Vlaar on the left.
AZ finished the half on top though and had a perfectly legitimate goal ruled out a minute before the break. Derrick Luckassen’s shot cannoned off Boyle before coming back off Sean Gannon to Fred Friday, who slotted to the net only to see his effort ruled out for offside. Television replays showed, however, that he was in line with Boyle when the initial effort came in.
AZ were equally as threatening on the restart and looked to have delivered a killer blow on the hour mark when van Eijden’s ball from halfway was headed home bravely by Wuytens from about 15 yards, with the midfielder being caught late by Gary Rogers as he raced from his line.
A long period of stoppage time, in which Wuytens was stretchered off, followed and when play resumed, a difficult Dundalk task turned from hard to almost impossible when skipper Stephen O’Donnell was sent off on 71 minutes for a second bookable offence after a foul on Ridgeciano Haps.
However, after a superb double save from Rogers to deny first Mattias Johansson and then Dabney Souza Boyle cleared a Luckassen effort off the line to keep the game alive.
That meant a chance was there for Dundalk when Chris Shields won a free on the left a minute from time. Horgan’s delivery was on the money for Kilduff to head home.
Dundalk then defended desperately over nine minutes of additional time, in which there were numerous goal-line scrambles, to claim a historic point.
Rochet; Johansson, van Eijden, Vlaar, Haps; Luckassen, Wuytens; Jahanbakhsh (Bel Hassani 75), van Overeem, Dabney Souza, Friday (Weghorst 55). Subs not used; Olij, Rienstra, Ouwejan, Garcia, Lewis.
Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Mountney (Benson 77), Finn, O’Donnell, Horgan; McEleney (Kilduff 85); McMillan (Shields 75). Subs not used: Sava, Grimes, Barrett, Shiels.
C Pisani (Malta).
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