For the second year running Dundalk are faced with the daunting challenge of having to overturn a one-goal BATE Borisov lead if they are to prolong their interest in the Champions League.
But, this evening, the Lilywhites must also set about doing so without the psychological benefit of an away goal and, as a consequence of Uefa regulations for the competition’s third qualifying round, in their home from home of Tallaght Stadium rather than in the familiar surroundings of Oriel Park.
Twelve months ago, Dundalk returned from Belarus with a 2-1 deficit that was the very least they deserved for a tremendous away performance against a team of serious Champions League pedigree. Unfortunately, they needed just one goal to progress, the task proving beyond the SSE Airtricity League champions back at Oriel Park as the visitors, newly respectful of their opponents after what had been for the Belarusian side a sobering first leg, thoroughly dominated a game which ended in a scoreless draw.
The difference from a Dundalk perspective this time is Stephen Kenny knows his players didn’t do themselves justice in the Borisov Arena last week where, although going a goal down with 20 minutes remaining, the tie was kept alive mainly thanks to his players’ collective resilience in the face of adversity, rather than the trademark attacking flair which has made them the standard-setters in domestic football the last few years.
The first Champions League target in Tallaght, then, is that Dundalk play like the champions they are – because it will surely take at least that, and probably much more, if Stephen Kenny’s side are turn this tie around and deliver what would be one of the great European results in League of Ireland history.
“We were outplayed last Tuesday in Belarus,” the manager admits. “It wasn’t our intention to be as defensive. It was just the way the game unfolded. We had to defend a lot more than we would have liked. At times we were careless ourselves and made some mistakes.”
Even allowing for the quality of the opposition, Kenny is not expecting a repeat performance this evening.
“No two games are the same,” he says. “That’s something I have learned over the last few years. No two games are ever the same. I feel we can play a lot better than we did last Tuesday night. I feel that we can raise our level again. I believe in the players and their talent. We feel that we can progress and we want to do that. We have a talented group and I believe we can get through.”
It would help the Lilywhites’ cause considerably should skipper Stephen O’Donnell and midfielder Ronan Finn, who are nursing knee and groin injuries respectively, make the cut, and Kenny has expressed cautious optimism about their availability.
“I think they will be okay,” he says. However, Dundalk will, of course, be again without defensive mainstay Brian Gartland following surgery on a broken wrist.
Also, while the enforced move from their home ground is hardly ideal, Kenny is hoping the travelling Dundalk support will be swelled in Tallaght by Dublin-based League of Ireland fans.
“We want a real passionate support in the stadium,” he says. “There will be people travelling from Dundalk. There are buses and everything going to Tallaght and we appreciate the support. We have a brand new generation coming to support the team and it’s exciting.
“The general public in Dublin will be there too and we appreciate every bit of support that we get. It’d be great if we could have that great passionate support behind us in Tallaght Stadium.”
Kick-off in this third qualifying round second leg game is at 8pm and the action will be screened live on eir Sport. Tickets for the game are on sale at Oriel Park from 10am and from 5.30pm at Tallaght Stadium.
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