2019 League of Ireland champions are one game away from playing in the Europa League group stages this season.
Tiraspol was the setting of a tense affair that saw Dundalk go a goal down early. Sean Murray headed an equalizer just before halftime to bring Dundalk back into the single-legged tie. The game finished 1 – 1 after 90 minutes and extratime, with Dundalk having some good chances.
Gary Rogers performed the heroics in the penalty shootout, saving a Sheriff spotkick. Chris Shields converted the final penalty for Dundalk to send the Lillywhites within touching distance of the Europa League proper.
League of Ireland sides have only qualified for the Europa League group stages on two previous occasions. In 2011 Shamrock Rovers became the first club to do so, beating Partizan Belgrade in the Play-Off round. Dundalk themselves qualified in 2016 after making it to the Champions League play-off round. Dundalk are the only League of Ireland side to pick up any points in the group stages of a European competition.
Dundalk will face Faroe Islands champions Klaksvik in the play-off round next Thursday. The game is apparently going to take place at the Aviva Stadium. Klaksvik beat Georgian Champions Dinamo Tiblisi 6 – 1 in their 3rd round game. The play-off tie will be a single-legged affair that has to be settled on the night.
The win maintains Filippo Giovagnoli’s 100% record since taking the Dundalk job. He now has the chance to follow in the footsteps of Michael O’Neil and current Ireland manager Stephen Kenny in taking a LOI side to the Europa League.
Vinny Perth is no longer Dundalk manager. The news came out late Thursday evening, a day after Dundalk were not out of the Champions League.
Seven and a half years. That’s a long time. 4 trophies last year is a big haul. And remember, Dundalk were a penalty shootout away from a 5th. Admittedly it’s been a disappointing run of form since the return of play. There only win has come in the FAI Cup, they beat Waterford 1 – 0. Other results were draws in the league against St Pats and Waterford, and a loss to Bohs. And of course, that 3 – 0 defeat to Slovenian champions Celje in Hungary.
The scoreline there doesn’t tell the story. Dundalk had chances before a calamitous goal. In the 2nd half Michael Duffy came close and Pat Hoban hit the post. If either of those had of gone in there would have been a big swing in momentum. Instead Celje got two late goals, the first of which came on the break. On a better day Dundalk would be waiting to see who they get in the 2nd round. Instead they face a wait to find who they will get in the Europa League.
But that scenario is hardly the end of the world. They’ll be seeded in the 2nd round, with a good chance of getting to the 3rd round. The 3rd round is a one-off game before the play-offs. If you offered any of the League of Ireland teams a place in the 3rd qualifying round they would have likely taken it.
The league title looks to be beyond Dundalk, but not even Stephen Kenny won the league with them every year. Vinny deserved the chance to see out what has been a disrupted season unlike any other. A poor run of games in these strange circumstances is no reason to sack somebody who knows the club well, and by all reports who is well liked by players and staff. If anybody could turn things around and have a good go at the Europa League qualifiers, challenge for the FAI Cup, and finish the league campaign strongly, it’s Vinny. And that’s the other issue, there doesn’t seem to be a contingency plan in place.
Alan Reynolds stepping in may see some stability and possibly a bounce of some kind against Sligo. But the idea of the permanent replacement being a first team coach from the English league reeks of the board seeing the name Manchester City and getting excited. It seems Dundalks American owners don’t actually know a whole lot about Irish football. And if Mark Burton does get the job, that suggests hiring on reputation. This whole situation has the look of hitting the panic button based on recent results without taking into account the broader context of the games. We haven’t been back a month yet, it’s been a difficult year for everyone, and this is far from a normal season. And as written above, Celje got lucky. The worry is that these owners are making a rash decision based on spreadsheets rather than what’s going on on the pitch.
Dundalk could face difficulties now if a few players become disheartened and decide to leave the club.
Vinny earned a chance to turn things around throughout last season. A short run of 4 poor results after a nationwide shutdown is hardly as telling and a haul of 4 trophies last season.
Peil and Back
Our latest League of Ireland episode of Peil and Back came out yesterday. Ron was joined by Niall Newberry of the Dundalk Democrat to talk all things League of Ireland. We spoke about Dundalks Champions League defeat. You can get the podcast here or on Spotify below:
We have two editions of Peil and Back out every week of the season. Thursdays is League of Ireland, Fridays is Women’s National League. The WNL edition is out now. You can get it here, or on Spotify below:
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