Dundalk draw a blank as Riga hold firm in first leg

Vinny Perth’s side now travel to Latvia with work to do

Dundalk’s Sean Hoare tackles Roman Debelko of Riga FC. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dundalk’s Sean Hoare tackles Roman Debelko of Riga FC. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Dundalk 0 Riga FC 0

After a night in which the quality of their finishing fell well short of their wider attacking game, Dundalk will have to defy a little bit of their own history now if they are to progress in this Champions League tie. For all of their achievements on the international stage in recent seasons they have not tended to fare well when they have had to play their first legs at home and you have to go back nine ties over 40 years to the last time they won an opener here. Quite a few have been lost but a 1-1 draw with FH a couple of years back is the only time that they prevailed in the end.

Vinny Perth, of course, won’t give too much thought to the record books and the 42-year-old will presumably have been fairly pleased with the way his side settled into this game with Dundalk generally dictating both the pace and pattern of play through the opening part of the night. Pat McEleney looked lively and, down the left, Michael Duffy was dangerous even if the lion’s share of their attacks went down the right flank where Sean Gannon and John Mountney exerted fairly sustained pressure on Riga’s left back – the experienced Latvian international Ritvars Rugins.

Gannon tended to run at his man while Mountney repeatedly looked to slip into space behind him and while things looked promising more than once, the defending they was disciplined enough that Roberts Ozols, disappointingly, was not really required to make a save of note.

The goalkeeper was reduced to being an onlooker on a couple of occasions, though. Sean Hoare and Pat Hoban sent close range headers over when they might well have hit the target while Hoare fired just wide after improvising brilliantly to control a Duffy free kick. They were the sorts of chances that managers talk about their sides having to take if they are to prosper at this level and Riga weren’t long about providing a reminder of how they might be made to pay.

Most of the time, the visitors had to work very hard to hold their own in midfield but they had their moments too and when they did Dundalk were sometimes left to chase things a little more than they would have liked. The team’s Brazilian striker, Roger, looked a threat at times and should have at least tested Gary Rogers after a sparkling passing move that showed just what the Latvians were capable of when left to their own devices.

Chris Shields generally provided a more solid base in front of the centre halves but when he collided with one of them, Daniel Cleary, while attempting a defensive header late in the first half he looked pretty shaken and it was no surprise when he failed to return after the break.

The strength of the options available to Perth is one of the most encouraging things for the manager as he embarks on these European games and Andy Boyle replaced the midfielder with Hoare shunting forward into his position but he was missed through a second half that was a little too open at times from a Dundalk perspective.

Duffy went close, as he had done in the first half, and the locals always looked a danger from set pieces but they stumbled by at times too.

Roger might have had a penalty when Cleary appeared to control his attempted shot with his arm but after Hoban’s shout for one in the first half had been ignored it would not have played well with the locals.

As it was, the crowd willed their side forward through the closing stages, hoping for the goal that might provide a more solid platform for progress but it wasn’t to be and, having managed precious little on target, Dundalk were obliged to console themselves with the fact that they have not conceded going into next Wednesday’s second leg.

“We wanted to keep a clean sheet because we know if we go over and score one it makes it very difficult for them so it was important to keep the door shut here,” said Hoare immediately after the final whistle.

“We did homework on them and they came here as we expected. We just weren’t good enough we didn’t create that many clearcut chances. But, in saying that, we were disappointed not to score.

“It will be tough, it’s always tough travelling and being expected to perform at the highest level but we’ve done it before. This group has done it lots of time so we’ll settle down and prepare for the next leg.”

Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Hoare, Cleary, Jarvis; McEleney, Shields (Boyle, half-time), McGrath (D Kelly, 80 mins); Mountney (Benson, 58 mins), Hoban, Duffy.

Riga: Ozols; Petersons, Prenga, Cernomordijs, Rugins; Visnakovs, Laizans, Saric, Bopesu; Roger (Rakels, 78 mins), Debelko.

Referee: P Kralovic (Slovakia).

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