Dundalk 1 Maccabi Tel Aviv 0
It is not a phenomenon that Irish club football has had to deal with much down the years but Dundalk are proving that even in this league the rich really do get richer.
Here, Ciarán Kilduff made his 28th birthday one to remember by earning his employers yet another €360,000 by way of a win bonus and leave the club’s domestic rivals wondering what possible chance they might have of competing next year. After this, though, you get the sense that their European rivals will be a little wound up too.
Dundalk, one presumes, had been viewed as the whipping boys of this group but Stephen Kenny had persistently said that the ambition for his side was to progress to the next round, and though it is still early his players continue to clear every bar he sets for them.
Here, they competed very much as equals once again and should have led from early on. But when Kenny sprang Kilduff from the bench 20 minutes into the second period, the striker made an immediate impact and though his goal was little more than tap in, he was perfectly placed to take it after Pat McEleney and Daryl Horgan had pulled the Maccabi defence asunder from one side then the other.
There was joy mixed, perhaps, with a little lingering disbelief amongst the capacity 5,500 crowd inside Tallaght; anxiety too after the goal as the visitors pressed desperately forward late on in search of an equaliser. Dundalk dug in, though, and Maccabi failed to create a clear-cut opportunity to salvage something in the 18 minutes that remained of the game.
“I think it was just a great effort by the players,” said Kenny afterwards. Maccabi have really good players in midfield but our players were just very astute on the night. Maccabi had a fair bit of possession but we were very good when we had the ball even if the chances just wouldn’t go in for us until the goal.
“It’s a big three points for us. We knew that if we won tonight that we would be outright second in the group. It’s only the second game and we have a minimum of five games before we play Zenit – and in that time they only have one. So we have a tough schedule to come but we’ll enjoy tonight. The players were very creative and very disciplined; they were really excellent and they’re getting better all the time so.”
His opposite number was predictably, rather more downcast. “We played too slowly,” said Maccabi manager Shota Arveladze afterwards, “and they are a well organised side, especially in the defence. There are four games to go and we can still be in with a chance of qualifying although clearly it won’t be easy.”
If they continue to play like this, Dundalk are clearly in with the much better shout although the victory was never really assured. There had actually, it seemed, been some cause for concern through much of the night in the sense that having previously proven adept at taking their chances over the course of this European run, their finishing was poor this time, most memorably in the opening couple of minutes when McEleney was one on one with Predrag Rajkovic but fired straight at the goalkeeper.
But they certainly created the better of the chances. Horgan, Ronan Finn and, within moments of coming on, Kilduff went close while Robbie Benson reckoned he should have a penalty – even if the replays didn't entirely support his case. And even after the break, as the visitors stepped things up and began to exert a little more control over things, Dundalk continued to look dangerous every time they broke with Finn repeatedly the one to get them onto the front front and Horgan clearly desperate to make things happen once they were on their way.
He eventually succeeded with the winger setting up Kilduff for a winner that will be recalled in the town for many years to come. The hope is, though, that the history is not over yet.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields; McEleney (Mountney, 75 mins), Finn, Benson (Shiels, 85 mins), Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff, 65 mins).
MACCABI TEL AVIV: Rajkovic; Peretz, Ben Haim, Tibi, Ben Harush; Medunjan, Alberman (Itzhaki, 75 mins), Igiebor (Micha, 59 mins); Scarione, Kjartansson, Ben Chaim (Benayoun, 81 mins).
Referee: A Treimanis (Latvia).