Stephen Kenny says Dundalk will take the game to BATE Borisov

Dundalk manager believes his side can put on a fitting show for a packed Oriel Park

More than a decade after his Bohemians side bounced back from a first leg defeat by BATE to go comfortably through, Stephen Kenny is setting the bar higher than mere qualification for the next round of the Champions League qualifiers this evening at Oriel Park where the hosts trail the Belarusians 2-1 at the kick-off.

The Dubliner says there will not be the usual calculated attempt to close out the game followed by a late charge for the critical goal. Dundalk, he insists, will aim to outplay their visitors and Kenny plays down the idea that conceding early on would be a "disaster," suggesting that it would just leave the locals having to score at least twice, something that apparently doesn't daunt him.

Give credit

"I do think we give credit to BATE Borisov, " he says.

“What they’ve achieved as a club is nothing short of phenomenal. They really are a standout club for what they’ve achieved for a club of their size in Europe. From where they’ve come from to get to the group stages so regularly and take on some of the giants and get results... they haven’t done that being naive or a poor side.

READ MORE

“They know how to go away and get difficult results. They haven’t just done it in one or two years. They’ve done it over the last seven or eight years on a consistent basis so we acknowledge they have a lot of quality... 15 international players.

“You have (Irish) teams,” he continues however, “that got results in the past that have set up in a way to get a result in Europe; they’ve had a good result on the basis of having a game plan and getting over the line.

“But we’re not looking to do that; we’re looking to take on a team that has played in the group stages, has beaten Bayern Munich in the group stages when they won (the competition in 2013) and we’re looking to absolutely outplay them at home. That’s our ambition.”

The attempt to take the first leg to the Belarusian champions certainly provided some cause for optimism with Dundalk having the better of the game for periods and going close to matching their hosts over the 90 minutes for attempts on goal.

Ultimately, they lost but their away goal makes the tie a finely balanced affair. Still, Kenny’s belief that they could survive the setback of BATE scoring again, may prove optimistic.

It is a particular concern because of the team’s knack for conceding even as they win.

Kenny points to the fact that his team won three out of four in Europe last season but they kept just one clean sheet while doing it and though they kept things particularly tight over the first third or so of the season here, they came into these Champions League qualifiers off the back of five league games in which they conceded eight times.

Four of those, to be fair, ended in victories and Kenny, who must decide whether to bring back Ronan Finn or Darren Meenan for the second leg, might well point to the 6-2 win over Limerick or the 4-2 victory in Galway and say he'd happily take either result but scoring more than one against BATE, he'll know, will not be so easy.

A boost for the visitors is the availability of Vitali Rodionov, whose headbutt on Dane Massey went unnoticed that night and unpunished since despite the player himself suggesting that he expected to be banned.

Bit puzzled

“I’m a bit puzzled,” says Kenny, “because obviously Rodionov is their captain, top goalscorer and current Belarusian Player of the Year. Psychologically, if he was missing, from their point of view, he’d be a big loss for them. . . it’s severe enough if you headbutt somebody in the middle of a game for no apparent reason.

“He issued a public apology to Dane, which is most unusual, and to his club. He was man enough to do that. In his statement, he said he was ready to take whatever sanctions Uefa gave to him. What I took between the lines was maybe he was hoping if he progressed his suspension would be limited. The fact there’s no suspension...”

But Massey views it as having an upside: “It would be that little bit sweeter now,” he says, “that they have their full squad to choose from and he wasn’t banned. There’d be no excuses there when we do beat them.”

Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill and Ed Sheeran are due be amongst the capacity crowd this evening too before the singer turns his attention to his own sell-out shows at the weekend.

The scale might be somewhat different but Dundalk, it seems, are similarly determined to put on a show.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times