Dundalk’s Europa League hopes crumbled in Cyprus on Thursday evening as AEK Larnaca punished the Lilywhites to set up a third qualifying round showdown with Austrian side Sturm Graz.
The pre-match talk centred on the searing heat in the Cypriot city but it was comical defending, as opposed to the conditions, that led to Dundalk’s capitulation with Sean Hoare, in particular, having a night to forget.
The tie was put to bed by the time Croatian referee Fran Jovic blew for half-time with Larnaca three goals to the good and cruising thanks to a brace from skipper Ivan Trickovski and one in between by Spanish midfielder Tete.
To their credit, Dundalk kept plugging away after the restart but they drew a blank and AEK put the icing on the cake in the 87th minute when substitute Joan Tomas slotted home with his first touch after fine work by Apostolos Giannou in the approach.
Both managers made one change apiece from the first leg with Kenny opting for Dean Jarvis over Dane Massey at left-back while Sean Gannon was named amongst the subs. The hosts introduced 33-year-old Tete with his fellow countryman, Tomas dropping to the bench.
AEK started on the front foot and Daniel Cleary was booked in the ninth minute for taking Mikel Gonzalez down on the right-hand side of the penalty area and Chris Shields had to block Trickovski’s effort from the inventive free that followed.
Kenny stressed the need for controlled possession but just seconds after Dundalk had put together their first move of note, they found themselves behind as AEK broke with intent in the 13th minute.
Acorán was the creator, his pass locating the run of captain Trickovski from the left and the Macedonian punished the lacklustre Hoare by rifling a first-time effort past Gary Rogers.
The game was pushed even further out of Dundalk’s reach eight minutes later when the alert Tete sprung in behind Hoare, who completely switched off, to take Joan Truyol’s free-kick in his stride and lift the ball brilliantly over the advancing Rogers.
Kenny looked very animated as he spoke to his players during a water break in the 25th minute and they created their first — and only — opening of the half four minutes later when Jamie McGrath cut on to his left-foot but the shot was timid and no danger to Toño Ramírez.
McGrath had a decent penalty appeal waved away by the match official in the 33rd minute when he went down under a high foot from Giannou and AEK rubbed salt in the wounds five minutes later to seal their passage to round three.
Picked out on the left, Tete was given the freedom of the AEK Arena to get his cross in and Trickovski hammered home at the second attempt after Rogers parried the original header back into his path.
Patrick McEleney and Sean Gannon were introduced at the break for Dylan Connolly and Daniel Cleary respectively but the natives almost added a fourth when Trickovski saw an effort come back off the woodwork in the sixth minute of the second-half.
Hoban could, and probably should, have pulled one back two minutes later when he glanced a Jarvis cross towards goal only to see the effort pull away from the post. Hoare’s night came to a close when he limped off in the 64th minute, leaving Dundalk to play out the game with three recognised full backs in the backline.
Despite that, they looked to carry a bit more threat with Shields and Massey both seeing a couple of bitty chances go wide of the goal but AEK saw it out in cruise control and just minutes after Rogers had made a stunning save to deny Trickovski, Tomas wrapped it up to bury Dundalk’s European hopes for another season.
AEK LARNACA: Toño Ramírez; Igor Silva, Joan Truyols, Mikel Gonzalez; Acorán (Joan Tomàs 87), Larena Jorge (Nacho Cases 71), Tete (Konstantinos Konstantinou 81), Hector Hevel, Thomas Ioannou; Ivan Tričkovski, Apostolos Giannou. Subs not used: Andreas Christodoulou (GK), Rafael Anastasiou, Ioannis Panayides, Onisiforos Roushias.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Hoare (Dane Massey 64), Daniel Cleary (Sean Gannon HT), Brian Gartland, Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson; Dylan Connolly (Patrick McEleney HT), Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban. Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (GK), John Mountney, Karolis Chvedukas, Ronan Murray,
REFEREE: Fran Jovic (Croatia).
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