Dundalk 2 Levadia Tallinn 2
Considering Dundalk came from behind twice, were far too porous at the back and did not create enough goal chances, this result will have to be swallowed. Quickly. Mission Impossible in Tallinn awaits.
It took 30-odd minutes for this Europa League qualifier to settle into any sort of understandable rhythm. Helpfully, four goals had already flashed before our eyes.
It needed that full half-hour before the sides – both far from home, if truth be told – could reset at 2-2 and Dundalk, technically the hosts, went about building a possession-based game that would give them an advantage heading towards the Baltic Sea next Thursday for the second leg.
Instead of such logic prevailing, Levadia skipper Brent Lepistu sliced through David McMillian for no apparent reason, 50 metres from goal, other than to let the striker know about the new rules of engagement.
It was the first of seven yellow cards flashed by the Czech referee. There will be a few stud marks this morning.
A glass half-empty observer could point to the calamitous Dundalk defending that gifted Bogdan Vaštšuk the opening goal after just 64 seconds. There were gaping holes across the back four Vinny Perth sent on to the pitch and this repeatedly exposed holding midfielder Wilfried Zahibo. Or it was the other way around, and Zahibo was struggling to cope amid Levadia’s array of attacking midfielders.
Either way, it was an obvious problem as soon as Ernest Agyiri created acres of space down the left wing before the Ghanaian’s sharp ball was touched into the net by Vaštšuk.
Will Patching drew Dundalk level inside 90 seconds with a first-time strike after Daniel Kelly’s clever cutback cross.
The 1,000 supporters who journeyed down the M1 did not know what to make of it all, especially when Vaštšuk bagged a second. Again, plenty of statuesque defenders were left staring at each other as the Estonian international scooped a delicate finish over Alessio Abibi.
A glass half-full observer would recognise that a gung-ho response had become Dundalk’s only option and, sure enough, McMillan moved further clear of Glen Crowe’s old record with his 13th European goal. Raivis Jurkovskis and Patching linked well down the right to give their front man a half sight of goal. Loose enough defending allowed McMillan to take a touch, turn and shoot.
Vitesse, the Dutch club waiting in round three, must be licking their lips at the prospect of dissecting whichever team progresses.
We half expected the announcer to scream ‘are you not entertained!’ as the players trotted off at half-time but apparently everyone needed to sit silently and contemplate what had just transpired. Including the Dundalk faithful. The 8pm kick-off ensured it had already been a long day and, on any drama scale, this felt like a European affair to remember.
Some luck came next as Abibi got down to block the wide open Zakaria Beglarishvili’s shot.
Now all the Louth people needed was a result to speed them back up the east coast. Dundalk dominated the last 30 minutes but, a penalty scream aside, they failed to create an opportunity worthy of victory in a tie that is very much alive as Perth’s men travel to the Estonian capital.
DUNDALK: Abibi; Jurkovskis, Boyle, Nattestad, Leahy; Patching, Zahibo (Sloggett, 58), Stanton (Murray, 75); Kelly, McMillan (Midtskogen, 86), McEleney.
LEVADIA TALLINN: Vallnerr; Antonov (Elhi, 56), Ugge, Podholjuzin, Llic (Peetson, 46); Lepistu, Livak (Oigus, 79), Putincanin, Vastsuk, Agyiri (Roosnupp, 66); Beglarishvili (Kirss, 67).
Referee: Miroslav Zelinka (Czech Republic).