BATE Borisov humbled, European football shocked and Dundalk in dreamland.
Brilliant Dundalk are through to a Champions League play-off game and guaranteed, at least, Europa League group action after Stephen Kenny’s team delivered one of the most sensational European victories in League of Ireland history at Tallaght Stadium.
BATE Borisov, the kind of club which considers the upper reaches of the Champions League as its natural habitat, were not just beaten but ultimately blown away by the Irish champions in their adopted home for the night.
And though the visitors dominated most of the action before the break, goals either side of half-time from the in-form David McMillan put Dundalk firmly in control before substitute Robbie Benson sealed the deal on a memorable night for the Lilywhites with a third in the dying moments of the game.
90: GOOOAAAALLL!August 2, 2016
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said McMillan.
“BATE are a fantastic team, to know that we’ve beat them shows just how good this (Dundalk) team is.”
BATE were unchanged from the side which had won the first leg 1-0 while Dundalk showed two alterations from the starting 11 at the Borisov Arena, with John Mountney and Chris Shields coming in and Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson starting on the bench.
And, encouragingly for the Lilywhites faithful who had made the journey down to Dublin, injury worries skipper Stephen O’Donnell and Ronan Finn were both passed fit to play – though, unfortunately, the latter only lasted for just over half an hour before being replaced by Patrick McEleney.
The open-ended Tallaght Stadium, so often a wind tunnel when the gales come down off the Dublin mountains, was positively balmy at kick off, the stillness of the evening in contrast to the noisy animation of the Dundalk fans and fellow League of Ireland well-wishers – not to mention Ireland manager Martin O’Neill - who’d turned up hoping to see the Irish champions defy the odds against the Champions League group regulars.
The Lilywhites, all black on the night, began brightly and moved the ball with purpose though a shot from BATE skipper Vitali Rodionov which flew high over Gary Rogers’ bar served notice, after barely three minutes of play, of the danger posed by the visitors on the counter-attack.
And, as BATE began to turn the screw, Dundalk were hardly helping their cause with some unforced errors, Ronan Finn’s giveaway pass in the 16th minute inviting Aleksei Rios to try a stinging shot from distance which flew just wide of Rogers’ post.
On as a sub for Finn in the 31st minute, McEleney made an immediate impression by finding John Mountney on the right who, spurning the chance to play the ball across the box, forced the first save of the evening from Sergei Veramko with a low shot to the near post.
And then, just two minutes before the break – and almost out of nothing - Dundalk fashioned the breakthrough goal that levelled the tie and sent their supporters wild.
The quicksilver Daryl Horgan had seen little enough of the ball until then but, finally, with a couple of trademark twists and turns, he was able to create the space on the left side which enabled him to clip a lovely right-footed cross into the box.
And there to meet it was David McMillan, a striker on a red-hot streak, sending a stretching header to the net via the upright.
44: GOAL!August 2, 2016
Nine minutes after the restart, a sloppy Paddy Barrett header offered Rios another shot from distance, his low drive this time just inches away from registering the crucial away goal which would have tilted the tie firmly back in BATE’s favour.
Instead, momentary anxiety turned to jubilation for Dundalk in the 59th minute, McEleney, a super sub if ever there was one, doing brilliantly to get to the line and cross to the far side of the box where Dane Massey met it first time, turning the ball with pace back into the centre for that man McMillan, again, to head the Lilywhites into the lead with his 11th goal in six games.
59: GOAL!August 2, 2016
Gary Rogers was called into action a few times as an increasingly desperate BATE went in search of salvation but, playing intelligently on the break, Dundalk had their chances too as the by now almost unbearable tension of the night inside Tallaght Stadium stretched to breaking point going into the game’s final phase.
The elements even played their part, teeming rain and flashes of lightning in the darkening sky adding to the end to end drama down on the pitch, as the faithful out-thundered the thunder in roaring Dundalk home.
But nothing could eclipse the noise that greeted Dundalk’s third in the last minute of normal time, sub Robbie Benson capitalising on an error by Kenysh to run in on goal and beat Veramko with an emphatic finish.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Boyle, Barrett, Massey, O’Donnell, Shields, Mountney, Finn (McEleney 31), Horgan (Kilduff 91), McMillan (Benson 77).
BATE Borisov: Veramko, Zhavnerchik (Signevich 80), Polyakov,Dubra, Pikk (Gordeichuk 64), Rios, Ivanic, Kendysh, Karnitski (Hleb 45), Rodionov, Stasevich.
Referee: Jakob Kehlet (Denmark) .
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