Another European first for Dundalk
Having been the first Irish side to win an away match in Europe against FC Zurich in 1963 and the first club from Ireland to firstly take a point and then a win in the group stages of a European competition in 2016, Wednesday night in Skonto Stadium was another first for Dundalk. They became the first League of Ireland side to win a penalty shoot-out in Europe with their 5-4 win over Riga FC.
Rogers equals record
Wednesday night was a 41st European appearance for Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers – equalling Ollie Cahill’s record of most games played by a League of Ireland player in Europe. It was also Champions League appearance number 14 for him, putting him alongside names such as Richie Baker, Jason Byrne, Glen Crowe, Ronan Finn, Alfie Hale and Tommy McConville. Only Owen Heary (18) and the trio of Stuart Byrne, Ollie Cahill and Johnny Matthews (all 16) have now played more Champions League matches than the Dundalk keeper. It was also Champions League appearance number 12 for Sean Gannon, a figure which was also reached by Kevin Brady, Peter Bryam, David Crawley, Dermot Keely, David McMillan, Paul Morrissey, Ken Oman and Steve Williams.
Massey and Gannon level
Dane Massey came back into the Dundalk side on Wednesday for his 25th European appearance – a record he shares with Sean Gannon.
100 not out for Benson
Robbie Benson started just his third game of the season in Riga but it was a landmark one – his 100th start for the club.
Wednesday night was the 250th career start for Patrick Hoban and his 10th European appearance.
Dundalk shut out
The two scoreless draws against Riga FC are the first time that Dundalk have failed to score in back-to-back matches under Vinny Perth. The last time the Lilywhites went consecutive games without scoring was at the start of the 2018 season when a 0-0 draw at home to Bray Wanderers was followed up by another stalemate away to Shamrock Rovers.
Wednesday night is no ordinary European match for Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers.
While the 37-year-old and his team-mates will be aiming to leave Riga with a win, for the Meathman it marks a record equalling 41st European appearance.
That will put him level with his PFAI colleague Ollie Cahill with the guarantee of at least two more games to come this season even if things go pear-shaped for Vinny Perth’s side in Latvia.
While it is a nice honour for Rogers, the result is most important. Nevertheless he is proud of the records he has built up and he knows that if the Lilywhites advance this week it will give them at least another four European games – something that will only help him build on his number of appearances.
The net minder kept the 12th clean sheet of his career in Europe in the first leg and he’s hoping he can make it lucky number 13 in Skonto Stadium this week.
“If I can get a clean sheet next week I’ll be very happy because we’ll certainly be still in the tie anyway.
“It’s nice to be reaching them sort of numbers but it’s just great to be playing Champions League football and in European competitions. It’s a real bonus for League of Ireland players and I’m just delighted that I’ve been involved in so many of them. Hopefully there are plenty more to come though.”
A 0-0 draw in the first leg leaves the tie on a knife edge but Rogers said the result of Wednesday’s second leg would determine how good a result or not last week’s game in Oriel was.
“It depends how it goes next week,” he said.
“Probably the most important thing is that we didn’t give away an away goal. A 0-0 is certainly better than a 1-1 so from that perspective it’s positive.
“To win any tie you have to go and score a goal. We’ll be hopeful that they’d probably come out a little bit more in the second leg because they were probably happy with the 0-0 draw tonight. We had chances but they just didn’t fall for us right at times.
“Going into the second leg, we’ll have learned a little bit more about them and you’d be hopeful that if the game opens up a little bit more that we’d be able to exploit that.”
With the possibility of penalties should the game finish 0-0 after extra time, Rogers said he would practice them this week.
“We probably will. You never leave any stone unturned,” he said.
“We didn’t practice penalties this week but lads are always taking a few to keep themselves sharp. It will be something that we’ll do though.”
He’ll hope that he’s still in the Champions League when he inevitably surpasses Cahill next week but regardless of how many games this season’s European journey entails, Rogers feels there is still plenty left in the tank and is hopeful of still being at Oriel Park next season.
“Absolutely, there’s no doubt about that.
“This is a great club. I’m obviously more than happy here. Things have gone well for me over the last five years and I’d be eager to stay on but it’s one of those things that we’ll hopefully tidy up now over the next few weeks,” he said.
By his own admission, the first leg against Riga was a night of frustration for Pat Hoban.
The Dundalk striker is hopeful he can have the last laugh on the Latvians though by finally breaking their resistance in this Wednesday’s second leg at Skonto Stadium.
The 27-year-old will start the 250th game of his career on the night and while he found chances limited first time out against Mihail Konevs’ side, he is confident Vinny Perth’s side won’t be shut out for a second time away from home.
“I fully believe that we can definitely score against them,” he said.
A lot of our chances were from dead balls tonight and from a few crosses but I do believe with the quality we have in our side that we can score goals over there and we’ll definitely be going over there to attack.
“They came here with a game plan to sit in and slow down the game as much as they could. I actually saw their manager at one stage saying slow it down. They came here for the draw and that’s what they got but over there they’ll have to come out a bit more and play against us and that could be to our advantage too.
“All it takes is for us to get one goal and then they have to get two. I’m a firm believer that we can score in any game so we’ll be going there with a mentality to go and win.”
The Galway native said his side will have learned a lot from the first leg.
“They were totally different from what we watched on video. They hadn’t sat in in one game that we watched but tonight they did. We knew they played at a slow tempo but they came here to do and job and they done their job. It was a frustrating night on our behalf because we were trying to score but it’s all to play for next Wednesday.
“We could probably move the ball a bit quicker. We didn’t move it quick enough I think but I thought we did well at times just that the final ball wasn’t the best. That’s what we can improve on for next week but the quality is there, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
12th clean sheet for Rogers
Gary Rogers kept his 12th European clean sheet in last Wednesday’s Champions League stalemate with Riga. Shay Given with 23 is the only Irish goalkeeper with more European shut outs than the Meath man. He also now has two more than Republic of Ireland legend Pat Bonner while he is five ahead of his nearest League of Ireland challenger, former Cork City goalkeeper Michael Devine who had seven European clean sheets. Former Dundalk goalkeepers Richie Blackmore and Steve Williams both had six in their careers – the same figure as Barry Ryan. Wednesday’s game was the 40th European appearance of Rogers’ career. He will equal Ollie Cahill’s record for most appearances in Europe by a League of Ireland player should he feature in the second leg this week.
Landmark for Gannon
Wednesday’s game was a 250th career start for Sean Gannon and his 222nd for Dundalk. With Dane Massey an unused sub, he rejoined his fellow full back at the top of the pile as Dundalk’s most experienced European player in the club’s history with 23 starts and one sub appearance.
Champions League debuts
While all of the Dundalk starting 11 had played in Europe before last Wednesday’s game there were five Champions League debutants on the night: Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis, Jamie McGrath and captain Pat Hoban. Daniel Kelly came off the bench to make his European debut just over 18 months on from last playing junior football for St Patrick’s CY. Meanwhile, Daniel Cleary made just his second European appearance for the club and first on home soil but more importantly it was his 50th start for Dundalk in all competitions.
Robbie Benson continued his comeback from injury by coming on as a second half sub for John Mountney for what was his 125th Dundalk appearance.
History against Dundalk
Only twice in the club’s history have Dundalk failed to win a first leg tie at home and gone through in Europe. The first of those was 40 years ago in 1979 when the infamous 1-1 draw with Linfield was followed up with a 2-0 win away in Holland in the second leg. The last time it occurred was in 2016 when another 1-1 draw at home with FH Hafnarfjordur was followed up with an away goals win following a 2-2 draw in the second leg in Iceland.
Vinny Perth might be taking charge of his first Champions League match when Dundalk take on Riga FC at Oriel Park tonight but the experience built up in recent years means he won’t be taking the Latvians lightly.
As the seeded team, the Lilywhites will be favourites to advance to a second qualifying round tie against either FK Partizani of Albania or Qarabag of Azerbaijan laster this month.
However, having watched Mihails Koņevs’ side extensively since they were paired together last month, Perth says the Virsliga champions should not be underestimated.
“We’ve seen them live four times at this stage,” said the Dundalk head coach.
“They’re a big, physically strong team but they’re technically very good as well. Some of their attacking play is really strong. That’s probably the strongest part of their team, their attacking front four.
“They’ve 12 internationals so they’re obviously a very experienced team and they’ve strengthened the squad over the last four weeks after the draw was made so I presume they see an opportunity to progress.”
While many fans and pundits expect Dundalk to see off the challenge of Riga, who only made their European debut 12 months ago when they lost to CSKA Sofia on penalties, Perth says within the camp the players are not taking anything for granted.
“I don’t see that as a concern internally but it’s definitely a concern externally where people think Latvian football is not as strong as Irish football.
“The players respect them. They’re a good side and there’s definitely a level of respect there.”
While Dundalk will be hoping to take a lead to Skonto Stadium for next Wednesday’s second leg, Perth said he wouldn’t panic if they failed to do so.
“We’ve been here before where we haven’t had leads. Obviously at home we will try and get a lead.
“Clean sheets, as much as possible, are very important in Europe and we’ve always fancied ourselves to score goals. Leading is not the be-all and end-all.”
The 42-year-old, who stepped up into the head coach role following Stephen Kenny’s departure last November, said he was not worried about taking on the responsibility of managing in Europe.
“I would feel pressure if this was my first game but it’s my 25th.
“I feel I brought a lot to the table over the last six or seven years so that in my eyes takes a little bit of pressure away because I’ve achieved quite a lot in Europe as a coach.”
Perth also feels his side have learned lessons from last year’s disappointing Europa League defeat away to AEK Larnaca when they lost 4-0 in the second leg.
“We lost heavily on the night but I said it at the time that I wouldn’t let 45 minutes of football cloud any of our judgement in terms of what we’ve done.
“We got punished for big mistakes and people out of form over 45 minutes. We paid the penalty for it but we definitely have learnt from that. We’ve spoken about it internally and we’ve moved on from it.
“This now is an opportunity to put things right,” said Perth.
Meanwhile, club captain Brian Gartland – who yesterday signed a contract extension with the club until the end of 2020 – expects a tight affair in the first leg.
“They’ll be coming over here to keep things tight and to bring it back home. I think the signings they’ve had in the last few weeks, (Roman) Debelko and a couple of other lads, are quality signings and that shows their ambition. They’re looking at this tie and thinking we’ve a chance of getting through here. Nothing can be taken for granted and you really have to be at it to get through,” he said.
Jordan Flores is the only absentee for Dundalk with a hip flexor injury.