Dundalk FC have got off to a losing start in the Europa League group stages in unfortunate circumstances after going down 2-1 to Norwegian champions Molde FK at Tallaght Stadium.
In what was a game of two halves, Dundalk had the better of the first and took a deserved lead into the break via Seán Murray’s headed goal – his third in as many European matches.
However, the League of Ireland champions were second best after that as Molde came from behind to win the contest, courtesy of Etzaz Hussain’s volley and Ohi Omoijuanfo’s penalty.
In the pre-match build-up, Filippo Giovagnoli called on his players not to let their nerves get the better of them, and the Dundalk head coach would have been pleased with his side’s start.
The Lilywhites exhibited no shortage of positivity and confidence early on and they had the game’s first attempt when John Mountney drilled his low free-kick well wide of the mark.
Dundalk had the ball in the net on 24 minutes after Michael Duffy’s cross was headed away by Kristoffer Haugen, but only as far as Patrick Hoban, who finished.
However, Finnish referee Petri Viljanen adjudged that the Dundalk frontman had fouled Martin Bjornbak.
That decision certainly looked an extremely harsh one, and it appeared to have awoken Molde, who then began to get themselves into the match following that scare.
Hoban’s headed clearance from Magnus Wolff Eikrem’s corner went only as far as right-back Marcus Pedersen, whose rasping shot from about 30 yards out swerved inches wide of the post.
Dundalk weathered that short spell of pressure and took a deserved lead on 35 minutes after a nice combination between Seán Gannon and Mountney allowed the latter to whip in a sensational cross which was headed home by Murray, who had gotten away from his marker.
The second half provided a much different story, however, and for Dundalk, it was pretty much backs against the walls for the majority as the Norwegians began to assert more authority after what manager Erling Moe described as a ‘disappointing’ first half display.
Mathis Bolly had a chance, but his shot was deflected just over by teammate Stian Gregersen.
The Norwegians did find their equaliser on 62 minutes when the impressive Pederson’s cross from the right was – with the helpful aid of a Gannon deflection – volleyed home by Hussain.
Things went from bad to worse for Dundalk nine minutes later when Erling Knudtzon, who was only off the bench, was brought down in the box by Gannon and a penalty was awarded.
Gary Rogers guessed correctly, but Omoijufnao’s still converted low into the bottom corner.
Molde could have extended heir lead when Hussain drilled a shot wide, while Knudtzon’s cut-back was diverted well over by Omoijufnao. Dundalk threw the kitchen sink at Molde in the dying embers, but couldn’t fashion an equaliser as Moe’s side collected all three points.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Seán Gannon (David McMillan 77), Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary, Darragh Leahy (Cameron Dummigan 77); Seán Murray (Andy Boyle 77), Chris Shields, Greg Sloggett (Patrick McEleney 64); John Mountney, Patrick Hoban, Michael Duffy (Stefan Colovic 80)
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Seán Hoare, Jordan Flores, Daniel Kelly, Jamie Wynne
Molde FK: Andreas Linde; Marcus Pedersen, Martin Bjornbak, Stian Gregersen, Kristoffer Haugen; Fredrik Aursnes, Magnus Wolff Eikrem (Martin Ellingsen 82), Etzaz Hussain; Eirik Hestad, Ohi Omoijuanfo (Ola Brynhildsen 90+5), Mathis Bolly (Erling Knudtzon 69)
Subs not used: Alex Craninx (gk), Mathias Ranmark (gk), Birk Risa, Sheriff Sinyan, Mattias Mostrom, Tobias Christensen, Eirik Ulland Andersen
Referee: Petri Viljanen (Finland)
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.