Impressive Hajduk Split prove too strong for Dundalk
Domestic league leaders face a massive task in the second leg
Dundalk’s Richie Towell reacts to a missed chance against Hajduk Split at Oriel Park. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The Croatians struck early on when Mijo Caktas headed past Peter Cherrie after just nine minutes.
Dundalk responded well to the setback with Patrick Hoban hitting the post before the break but the visitors grabbed a second goal by Nikola Vlasic with 14 minutes remaining.
The result leaves Dundalk with a mountain to climb in the second leg at the Stadion Poljud next Thursday.
Hajduk started well and it was no surprise when they took the early lead. Nikola Vlasic was set free down the right and he sent a perfect cross on to the head of Caktas who nodded firmly into the corner.
Dundalk hit back with Hoban first heading a Meenan delivery off target and then heading straight into the arms of Dante Stipica from John Mountney’s enticing delivery.
Stephen Kenny’s side created their best chance of the game on 25 minutes when the exceptional Sean Gannon robbed Antonio Milic and crossed for Hoban whose strike agonisingly hit the post.
Hajduk were a different side at the start of the second half and good opportunities were created for Sandro Gotal and World Cup star Avdija Vrsajevic, both of whom failed to trouble Cherrie.
The League of Ireland leaders upped the tempo but they found the Hajduk back four a tough nut to crack.
Richie Towell and Hoban had chances as Dundalk pressed hard for the equaliser.
But they were stopped in their tracks on 76 minutes as Kouassi was the beneficiary of a lucky break on the right hand side and when he crossed to the back post, Nikola Vlasic was on hand to fire home.
DUNDALK: Cherrie; Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Towell, Shields (Higgins 73); Meenan, Mountney (McDermott 58), Horgan (McMillan 82); Hoban.
HAJDUK SPLIT: Stipica; Vrsajevic, Milovic, Maloca, Milic; Vlasic, Bradaric (Maloku 81), Caktas; Kouassi (Basic 79), Gotal, Maglica (Andelkovic 59).
Referee: Markus Hameter (Austria).