Maccabi Tel-Aviv 2 Dundalk 1
An amazing year came to a disappointing end for Dundalk as their dream of reaching the last 32 of the Europa League came crashing down in Israel on Thursday.
Stephen Kenny’s side had arrived in the Holy Land hoping to reach the promised land but there was to be no miracles as they gifted Maccabi Tel Aviv two soft first half goals that ultimately decided the game.
Hampered by a lack of competitive action of late, Dundalk could barely muster a response and it mattered little anyway with AZ Alkmaar getting the win they needed against Zenit St Petersburg to join the Russians in advancing from Group D.
The Lilywhites have ended bottom of that group but that fact doesn’t do justice to how well they have performed.
Kenny admitted afterwards that “bad goals” came back to haunt his side but said they can be proud of their achievements.
“I feel in the first half we started well enough but the goal we conceded was a really poor goal from our point of view.
“It was very disappointing to concede a goal like that but the players showed their character to get a goal back in the manner that they did. It was a well worked goal and that gave us confidence.
“I felt we were well in the game at 1-1 and it looked like we could create more chances but it was very disappointing to concede a second goal the way we did.
“We have given some soft goals away but over the campaign we’ve beaten FH over two legs, beaten BATE Borisov 3-0 to qualify, run Legia Warsaw really close and in the group there’s never been more than a goal in any of the games,” said Kenny.
Dundalk had been dealing well with early Maccabi pressure before pressing the self destruct button in the 21st minute.
Brian Gartland was caught in possession at the back by Tal Ben Chaim with the ball breaking to Haris Medunjanin who rounded Rogers before being hauled down by the goalkeeper. Ben Chaim took full advantage of the gift by sticking away the resultant penalty.
There was brief hope for Dundalk though when they equalised just six minutes later. A superb pass from Patrick McEleney created space for Chris Shields on the right with his low cross inadvertently turned into his own net by Eli Dasa under pressure from Daryl Horgan.
The elation didn’t last long however as Dundalk proved the victims of their own demise once again on 38 minutes. Shields lost possession in midfield with Ben Chaim beating Gannon on the right before picking out Dor Miha for a shot which squirmed under Rogers, who should have done better.
There was little sign of a revival on the restart either with the home side remaining on top as Eytan Tibi headed just wide from a corner on 58 minutes.
Ben Chaim was then denied by Rogers at close range after breaking in from the left before Miha sliced wide with the goal at his mercy on 70 minutes.
Dundalk were struggling to get out of their own half at that stage but did finish well.
Indeed, they had a genuine chance to equalise in the 92nd minute when Ciaran Kilduff stole in ahead of goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic to get his head on Daryl Horgan's corner but somehow headed wide.
In many ways it summed up Dundalk’s night.
It was a disappointing end to an amazing year but Dundalk have raised the bar of what is expected of an Irish side in Europe and have given all League of Ireland clubs hope that bigger and better days lie ahead.
Maccabi Tel Aviv: Rajkovic; Dasa, Ben Haim, Tibi, Ben Harush; Igiebor (Benayoun 84), Golasa (Alberman 82), Medunjanin; Miha, Kjartansson, Ben Chaim (Ben Basat 88).
Subs not used: Daniel, Itzhaki, Jehezkel, Filipenko.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon (O'Donnell 68), Gartland (Barrett HT), Boyle, Massey; Shields; Benson, Finn, McEleney (Kilduff 80), Horgan, McMillan.
Subs not used: Sava, Mountney, Shiels, Keane.
Referee: R Schorgenhofer (Austria).