Dundalk’s Europa League quest ended by Hajduk Split
Europa League – Second qualifying round, second leg
Dundalk’s Brian Gartland battles with Sandro Gotal of Hajhuk Split during their Europa League qualifier at Stadion Poljud, Split, Croatia, on Thursday night. Photograph: Inpho
Hajduk Split 1 Dundalk 2 Hajduk Split win 3-2 on aggregate
Irish involvement in European competition came to an end in Croatia last night as Dundalk made their exit from the Europa League despite beating Hajduk Split in their own back yard.
Two nil up from the first leg, Igor Tudor’s side looked like they had killed the tie off when Jean Kouassi made it 3-0 on aggregate in the 25th minute.
Dundalk, however, upped their game after the break and goals from substitutes Patrick Hoban and Kurtis Byrne put Stephen Kenny’s side ahead on the night.
Dundalk threw men forward in a bid to become the first League of Ireland club to advance in Europe after losing the first leg at home but despite Richie Towell drawing a late save from Dante Stipica they just couldn’t find that crucial third goal.
Dundalk were almost punished here nine minutes. A quick throw sent Jean Evrard Kouassi clear on the right but thankfully for the visitors his cutback went behind the incoming Marko Bencun.
The League of Ireland leaders put together a good spell of possession that slightly dampened the home support’s enthusiasm and they had a good chance to pull ahead on the night after 24 minutes.
A good run by John Mountney ended with the ball falling to Richie Towell in the Hajduk penalty area. The midfielder teed himself up for a half volley but his effort lacked power and direction.
It looked like the tie was as good as put to bed seconds later as Split took the lead. Sandro Gotal’s magnificent back flick put Jean Kouassi in behind the Dundalk back four and he smashed it through Gabriel Sava to make it 3-0 on aggregate.
There were fears that the floodgates would open as Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur target Nikola Vlasic and Marko Bencun both both fired attempts goalward.
Dundalk steadied the ship though and they created another opening just past the half hour mark. David McMillan fired over a deep cross to the inrushing Dane Massey at the back post but his effort was well blocked by Nizic.
The Hajduk fans sang and danced their way through the half time interval but they were stunned when Patrick Hoban pounced on a poor back pass by left back Goran Jozinovic to round Stipica and roll the ball home after 66 minutes.
Incredibly, Dundalk went ahead on the night eight minutes later. Chris Shields delivered a wonderful first time ball and Kurtis Byrne, introduced as a substitute for David McMillan just six minutes earlier, stabbed home at the far post.
The Hajduk fans were living on their nerves for the final 15 minutes but Dundalk, despite pushing forward at every opportunity, just couldn’t find that crucial third goal.
HAJDUK SPLIT: Stipica; Nizic, Milovic, Maloca, Jozinovic; Vlasic, Andelkovic, Caktas (Bradaric HT), Kouassi (Maglica 62), Gotal, Bencun. DUNDALK: Sava; Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Shields, Higgins (Meenan 87); Mountney, Towell, McDermott (Hoban 57); McMillan (Byrne 68). Referee: Ionut Marius Avram (Romania).