Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has called on his players to produce the “game of their lives” in Iceland tonight to advance into the third qualifying round of the Champions League.
After last week’s 1-1 draw in the first leg at Oriel Park, the League of Ireland champions take on FH Hafnarfjordur in the Kaplakriki at 8.15pm (Irish time), with the winners progressing to tie against Belarussia’s BATE Borisov, who saw off Finland’s SJK last night.
The Dubliner insisted ahead of his side’s departure for Reykjavik yesterday that his side were going to Iceland to win the game and insists there were no “grey areas” for his team following the setback of former Dundalk player Steven Lennon’s 77th-minute equaliser in last week’s first leg. That goal puts FH in the driving seat, but Kenny insists past away performances in Europe, particularly the 2-1 victory away to Hajduk Split in 2014, gave him the belief they could turn things around.
“We have to take confidence from that,” the manager said when asked about previous European away days. “Make no mistake about it, we are going there to win. There’s no grey areas for us. We have to score and we have to win. We’d have preferred not to have conceded that late goal last week, but it just means we have to do it the hard way. We will have to give the game of our lives.”
Dundalk hope to have leading goalscorer David McMillan available. The scorer from last week’s first leg sat out training over the weekend as a precaution over a tight thigh muscle, but Kenny insists he “should be fine”.
Centre-back Brian Gartland will miss the game, however, having broken his wrist in the opening quarter of last week’s first leg following an awkward fall. The 29-year-old is expected to be sidelined for the next six to eight weeks, with Kenny confirming that Paddy Barrett would come into the side in his place.
FH will be without Atli Gudnason after he was stretchered off in their draw with IBV Vestmanaeyjar on Saturday.
“From our point of view, though, we’re just full focused on ourselves,” said Kenny. “On reviewing the first leg again we played well in spells. It was a scrappy game for the most part, but they made it scrappy. They won a lot of free kicks at both ends from goal kicks and the officiating was quite scrappy, but, if Wednesday night is a more open game, then that will suit us.”
While a win in Iceland would set Dundalk up for a €1.2m payday and likely earn them another crack at a BATE Borisov side that beat them 2-1 on aggregate last year, Kenny insists Dundalk need no extra motivation to advance to face the Belarussians, who lead SJK 2-0 from their own respective first leg last week.
“The main thing is knowing it’s a free game against them, because if we win that, we’re in the fourth qualifying round of the Champions League, but even if we lose, we’re in the Europa League play-offs. It’s a great incentive, but it doesn’t add to what we’re trying to do this week at all: We’re only fully focused on beating FH.”
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