Vitesse cling on to send Dundalk out of Europe

Patrick Hoban pulled one back for the home side but it wasn’t enough in Tallaght

Vitesse’s Matus Bero celebrates after scoring a goal during their Europa Conference League qualifier against Dundalk. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Vitesse’s Matus Bero celebrates after scoring a goal during their Europa Conference League qualifier against Dundalk. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Dundalk 1 Vitesse 2 (Vitesse win 4-3 on aggregate)

An instant classic denied to the masses. Over the entire 180 minutes Dundalk looked every inch an equal to the fourth best team in the Eredivisie.

Vitesse are blessed to progress without extra time or penalties while Dundalk will forever regret the multiple sights of goal that passed them by.

The Dutch, stung by almost losing the first leg at home, having dominated until preseason legs slowed their rapid pace, were expected to fillet Dundalk from the off.

Will Patching had other ideas, rolling a pass into Michael Duffy’s path after 40 seconds. Duffy coolly beat Markus Schubert at his near post but delirious Dundalk celebrations behind the goal were silenced by the linesman’s flag. It was a tight call.

So began the battle of the high press. Vitesse effectively begun with five attackers in a contest devoid of a traditional midfield.

Dundalk, to their credit, created all the early and late chances. Pat Hoban, who was sensational all night, failed to get a touch on Duffy’s slick cross from the left before Hoban, Patrick McEleney and Sonni Nattestad’s powerful header all went agonisingly close.

The man to man combat never subsided as Dundalk matched their wealthier opponents in some ferocious tangles for possession.

Considering everything that transpired up to the 28th minute, Dundalk will be disgusted with Matus Bero’s goal. Nikolai Frederiksen sucked in both centre halves, and when Andy Boyle blocked a speculative shot the spinning ball gifted Bero a simple finish.

Boyle thumped the grass in frustration.

Vitesse were relentless. Million Manhoef, the teenage son of a mixed martial arts champion nicknamed “No Mercy,” was a constant threat gliding in from the right.

The wonder was when they would fade, like they did in the first leg, but it hardly seemed to matter when Frederiksen pulled Nattestad towards him before feeding Yann Gboho who slid a second under Alessio Abibi.

The 2-nil cushion forced both teams to dramatically alter their approach, Vitesse adopting a flat back four for the second half, with number 10 Riechedly Bazoer largely abandoning the sweeper role, as Dundalk manager Vinny Perth unleashed an attacking blitz spear-headed by Hoban with Patching in behind. It left them wide open for a sucker punch third goal but the next twist in a thrilling affair went their way.

The Vitesse players surrounded Alain Durieux when the Luxembourg referee pointed to the spot after Duffy collapsed under contact from Sondre Tronstad. Hoban buried the penalty.

Twenty minutes remained to level a fixture that really deserved to be on television as Dundalk out classed and out muscled Vitesse.

What made this loss so commendable was the way Perth’s men held their shape, stretching the field to prompt big, looping crosses that forced Danilho Doekhi, the enormous Vitesse centre half, to belt clearances in any and all directions. The Dutch were rattled down the home straight.

Now Dundalk were the relentless ones. Next, Hoban forced an acrobatic late save from Schubert. Ravis Jurkovskis will always wonder how he failed to head home Hoban’s resulting corner. Same goes for Gregory Sloggett as the seconds ticked away.

The subs almost turned the tide. Daniel Kelly’s low cross in injury time missed the lunging David McMillan by a centimetre. Every Dundalk player collapsed with head in hands. That was the moment.

Tonight’s three results mean Shamrock Rovers are the last Irish club standing in the Europa Conference League qualifiers. They face Flora Tallinn in Estonia next Thursday in the elimination round, with a minimum of €3 million to be claimed.

Dundalk, considering the season they have had to date, can have few complaints about missing out on the serious prize money. If they want European football next season the focus must instantly switch to cutting into Sligo Rovers 11 point lead in a scramble for third spot in the Airtricity League.

There is no reason why this cannot be the catalyst.

Dundalk: Abibi; Dummigan, Boyle, Nattestad (Jurkovskis 63), Leahy; McEleney, Stanton (Kelly 57), Sloggett, Duffy; Hoban, Patching (McMillan 72).

Vitesse: Schubert; Bazoer, Doekhi (Domgjoni 83), Oroz; Wittek, Gboho (Hajek 63), Tronstad, Manhoef (Vroegh 78); Bero, Dargalou, Frederiksen (Vonmoos 63).

Referee: Alain Durieux (Luxembourg).

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