Last night was yet another great night for Irish football. Dundalk packed out Tallaght Stadium in a game many didn’t want to miss after their previous outings in the group.
I would be the first to admit when Stephen Kenny’s men were drawn in this group by the time they got around to playing Zenit St Petersburg I would have thought it was a case of keep the result as low as possible. How wrong was I?
Zenit St Petersburg as we all know are a top side. A side that over the years have shone in this competition. In 2008 they won the tournament in its UEFA Cup incarnation back in 2008 by defeating Rangers in the final.
With just two games into the Europa League group stage Dundalk have silenced the doubters particularly those who seen them as merely a side there to make up numbers.
Their 1-1 draw at AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands was followed by one of the greatest nights in Irish footballing history. Yes their famous 1-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv at Tallaght Stadium, seen the club with an impressive four points from a potential six.
These results have been anything but “flukes” Dundalk have been a classy side to watch and have played the type of football that any neutral would enjoy. Up next was the Russians. This game was by far to be the toughest task for Dundalk but one that many fans felt well up for. Can you blame them? You would be crazy to write off the Irish Champions.
The game which kicked off in front of a sold out Tallaght Stadium was thrilling from the get go. Although for the first time in this group Dundalk somewhat found themselves second best in the first half. That said they much like Zenit had their chances.
Zenit gave Dundalk plenty of space when on the ball and within just seven minutes Dundalk were almost one up with a shot from Ronan Finn which was just wide of the mark.
This pressure from Dundalk was followed with a fantastic run out of his own half by Daryl Horgan but his pass was intercepted by ex-Manchester City player Javi Garcia. Already this game was showing signs that Dundalk were well up for it.
As the whistle went for half time Stephen Kenny must have been delighted with the 45 minute display. Pundits throughout social media praised the Irish side for their attacks in front of goal and for not just parking the bus as many unfamiliar with this side would have expected.
As the second half got underway the crowd really got behind the Lilywhites. Tallaght Stadium was bouncing you could feel the fans had every intention of getting a result and their prayers were to be answered on the 52nd minute with a goal from Robbie Benson. His long range strike somehow found the back of the net.
— eir Sport (@eirSport) October 20, 2016
Dundalk were leading and it wasn’t long before they almost went two goals in front after Dane Massey’s header hit the post. Dramatic stuff, were Dundalk on the verge of yet another historic night.
Zenit kept pressing although they seemed rattled, as the yellow cards began to fly a win or at the very least a draw was what I was expecting. Then the killer blow on the 71st minute, a poor clearance from Gabriel Sava allowed Zenit through and they were now drawing level.
There was worse news on the way as on the 77th minute Zenit went in front with a goal from Giuliano. Although many would have said the game was dead and buried Dundalk never gave up and still had chances to level it.
With a rather harsh penalty awarded to Zenit in the 90th minute all hope was lost. Although keeper Sava gave Dundalk a small chane with a save from the spot. With three minutes left could they do it? They yet again charged the pitch but it wasn’t enough time. As the ref blew for full time the dream was historic dream was over.
Dundalk bowed out with a 1-2 loss at home but there was to be no shame in that. Zenit proved their class in the remaining 20 minutes as they held on to maintain their 100% start to Group D. Stephen Kenny can be proud of the display on the night.
Dundalk now sit second of Group D with four points. They travel next to Russia to take on Zenit again, this time round the task will be a whole lot tougher but with Dundalk in fine form anything is possible next month.
Here is some of the reactions from last nights thriller;
A Dundalk team assembled for €20k – playing 5th game in 12 days – leading a Zenit squad that cost €145m. Whatever happens from now. Wow.
— Daniel McDonnell (@McDonnellDan) October 20, 2016
There is no supposedly about it , this Dundalk team is the best club side Irish football has produced.
— Stephen Henderson (@HOTSHOTZ2) October 20, 2016
Dundalk are putting bigger teams all over Europe to shame with their performances in the Europa League… including our own
— SPFL Banter *** (@splbanter) October 20, 2016
Dundalkkkkkkkkkk, have my babies #Dundalk
— Niall Breslin (@nbrez) October 20, 2016
Result isn’t the important thing. A budget of €165million v €1million. Again, I’m saying the product is there,it needs support #LOIinEurope
— Alan Kelly (@alanrefkelly) October 20, 2016