Dundalk will hope to finish the job they started last week when they welcome Levadia Tallinn to Oriel Park for the home leg of their Europa League first qualifying round tie on Thursday night (kick-off 7.45pm).
The Lilywhites brought back with them a one-goal advantage from the first leg at the Kadriorg Stadium in Tallinn last week thanks to a second half goal from Dylan Connolly – his first ever in European competition.
Stephen Kenny’s side didn’t have things all their own way in the Estonian capital however, as Levadia were arguably the better side in the opening exchanges.
The Dundalk manager will be taking nothing for granted ahead of the return leg. “We respect Levadia Tallinn and respect that it’s only half-time at the moment,” said Kenny at Wednesday afternoon’s press conference at Oriel Park.
“It’s only 1-0 so there’s a match certainly still to be won and we’re going to have to earn the right to win it.”
Reflection on the victory in the first leg Kenny said that “we had done our homework so there wasn’t surprises. Levadia started very well in the first 20 minutes last week and we needed to see that spell out. Once we did, we controlled a lot of the game but we’re certainly not underestimating them because we understand there’s still very much a game to be won.
“We’ve seen the comments from Sander Puri, who’s played in the league a long time and is obviously an Estonian international and he sees it as a 50/50 tie. So you have to respect that and we have to go and do ourselves justice and put in a performance to win another European game.
“European nights can be special, we want to create special nights here and create new history. You have to have the determination to do that but it’s very much one step at a time and we can’t look beyond tomorrow night. We’re going to have to really fight hard to come through.”
Speaking of history, Dundalk have astonishingly never kept a clean sheet in both legs of a European tie and Kenny is determined to put that record straight ahead of the visit of Levadia on Thursday.
“It shows you how difficult it is to do that; how difficult it is to win back-to-back European games. That’s a huge motivation for us to try and win the two legs and try and get through. It’s a great honour to be Ireland’s representatives and we want to prolong that, we take that seriously. We’ve great determination to do ourselves justice in that regard and we look forward to the game.”
Dundalk could be unchanged from the side that won in Tallinn last week with John Mountney – who came on as a late substitute in the first leg – being the only fresh injury casualty due to a thigh strain.
Levadia created chances in the early stages of the first leg at the Kadriorg Stadium last week and on another day could have ended up in a much better position than the one they find themselves in Thursday’s return leg at Oriel Park.
However, manager Aleksandar Rogic remained in a buoyant mood following what was a narrow loss to Dundalk but will be fully aware of the challenge that his team are to face in the second leg.
“We can’t be happy to lose the game but at the same time I’m very proud of my players because everyone on the pitch gave their best,” Rogic told reporters in the aftermath of that first leg defeat.
“There were some very good actions from both teams. Big respect to Dundalk, they’re playing very good football. You can see that they have very good confidence and physical power but we also showed that we have some qualities and good sides to our game. I’m not happy with the result but the performance of the boys was okay.
“This is not finished for sure, of course now (in the second leg) we have less chance to pass the ball around but we will try to go into the next round and believe that we can go into the next round.
“We played our last league match one month ago and the biggest problem with our domestic league is a very big difference between the top teams and the lower teams. The Irish league is more equal and that is the problem for Estonian teams, not only for us but every Estonian team.
“It wasn’t a perfect draw for us because they’re playing regularly and ten days ago they played a big derby against Cork City. After that they played two games, so they are keeping their rhythm by playing competitive games and fighting for trophies over there.”
Referee: Adrien Jaccottet (Switzerland)
Dundalk haven’t lost a European match at Oriel Park since Hajduk Split recorded a 2-0 win in a Europa League qualifier in 2014 – BATE Borisov (2015), FH Hafnarfjordur (2016) and Rosenborg (2017) have all since failed to beat the Lilywhites at the Louth venue.
Dundalk have only ever won both legs of a Euro tie once – against Jeunesse Esch in 2014.
Levadia are no strangers to followers of the League of Ireland, for this is the fifth time that they’ve been drawn against Irish opposition. Their only success thus far came in the 2004/05 UEFA Cup against Bohemians, who were managed by none other than Stephen Kenny.
Dundalk 4/9; Draw 3/1; Levadia Tallinn 11/2
Dundalk 2-0 Levadia Tallinn
Injured:John Mountney, Stephen Folan, Stephen O’Donnell.