Dundalk survive wobble to make group stages of Europa League
Substitute Daniel Kelly’s third goal on the break ended nervous spell for home side
Dundalk’s Daniel Cleary celebrates scoring their second goal with his team-mates during the Europa League playoff against KI Klaksvik at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Dundalk 3 KI Klaksvik 1
Dundalk are back on one of the club game’s biggest stages having beaten their Faroese playoff opponents to earn their place in Friday’s Europa League group stage draw.
The Irish champions didn’t have it easy against visitors who had comfortably enough chances through a 20-minute second-half spell to force the tie into extra time but they just about deserved their victory at the end and the rich rewards it will bring.
Seán Murray and Daniel Cleary scored the goals that seemed, 48 minutes in, to confirm Dundalk’s early and fairly obvious superiority but it took one on the break 10 minutes from time by substitute Daniel Kelly to steady the Irish side’s nerves and kill of KI. There had been some anxious moments before that for the locals with Gary Rogers forced into a couple of good saves, but Klaksvik a little unlucky on occasion too.
It was quite a turnaround, for before Cleary’s goals from a poorly defended header, the visitors really hadn’t looked as though they had enough of any one thing about them to seriously trouble their hosts. Their style seemed to play to Dundalk’s own strengths and it was the Irish side who had enjoyed more or less a monopoly on clearcut goalscoring chances.
As the Faroese started to demonstrate real character and composure in the wake of falling two behind, though, Filippo Giovagnoli’s men showed how much they still have to learn about maintaining control of a game from a winning position. Points will mean big prizes from this stage on and they will have to do better than they did in the second half here, one would imagine, if they are significantly add to the €4 million they have earned so far.
Having come with the intention of defying expectations rooted in a longer term European record that included just four wins in 24 individual outings KI can, in any case, take some pride with how close they went in the first ever appearance by a team from their league at this stage of a major club competition.
Their hope had been, though, that they could build on the remarkable victory last week over Dinamo Tbilisi when the team’s success had largely been built on their effectiveness at set pieces.
Giovagnoli said his side had worked on defending them this week and though he must have been frustrated when Pat McEleney fouled Jakup Andreasen to concede one in a dangerous position within the first minute or so, they defended it well and then fairly effectively turned off the tap until the second half.
Within a couple of minutes they were going close at the other end with Pat Hoban heading Stefan Colovic’s cross well wide having been left unmarked a dangerous position. Within a couple of minutes McEleney forced a save at full stretch from Kristian Joensen and in truth Dundalk were almost always on the front foot from that until the game looked more or less won just after the break, pressing their opponents well inside their own area and winning possession in dangerous positions often enough to have their opponents on edge.
In midfield, they seemed dominant with Greg Sloggett anchoring a set up that kept control of the ball for stretches against a side incapable of imposing itself in the way that was required, especially after they had gone behind 12 minutes before half-time.
The build-up to that had been rudimentary enough with Seán Hoare picking out Hoban with an angled cross from a long way out. The striker did well to make clean contact and Murray seemed to sense where things were headed before either the Joensen or his two centre halves with the midfielder sweeping into the space in the triangle between the three, then heading past the goalkeeper as he belatedly came charging out to clear.
Cleary’s goal was rooted in another defensive mix-up as Heini Vatnsdal tried but failed to head Michael Duffy’s corner clear and put his goalkeeper off in the process. Hoban and Colovic both went close before the defender blasted home from a couple of yards.
Dundalk lost their way badly after that, though, suddenly sitting off opponents who didn’t know yet that they were beaten. Andreasen went close twice in the space of 30 seconds after a corner of their own, Boris Dosljak missed the target with a close-range volley and Rogers had to save well from Patrick Johanssesen.
So it was really no surprise when Ole Erik Midtskogen found the bottom left-corner from 25 yards.
As the defending seemed to go from bad to worse, however, Dundalk got a big break when a slightly desperate clearance was headed carelessly into space by Vatnsdal and Odmar Faero’s attempt to push it back upfield was blocked by Murray. The midfielder then did well to feed Kelly who coolly slipped the ball past Joensen and Dundalk into some very exciting times.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Hoare, Gartland, Cleary, Leahy; McEleney (Mountney, 81 mins), Sloggett, Murray; Colovic (Kelly, 71 mins), Hoban (McMillan, 71 mins), Duffy.
KLAKSVIK: Joensen; Danielsen, Faero,Vatnsdal, Brinck; Bjartalid, Palovic (J Johannesen, 89 mins), Andreasen, P Johannessen; Midtskogen, Klettsgard (Dosljak, 55 mins).
Referee: M Mariani (Italy).