Dundalk dare to dream after Europa League draw in Holland
Dundalk salvaged their night with a last-gasp headed equaliser against stellar Dutch opponents AZ Alkmaar on their Europa League debut.
Struggling with their captain Stephen O'Donnell red carded and trailing by a goal, the semi-professional Irishmen rallied in the dying minutes with Ciaran Kilduff's strike which left it 1-1 at the final whistle and set Irish tricolours waving in the Netherlands.
AZ had taken the lead when classy midfielder Stijn Wuytens headed home from a long ball during the second half of the Group D clash and was injured by onrushing international squad goalkeeper Gary Rogers.
And the signs looked ominous when O'Donnell was dismissed.
But from early in the match Dundalk had matched the Dutch top-four outfit for speed and creativity with a skilful performance from marauding midfielder Daryl Horgan.
And with 10 men they defended valiantly as Andy Boyle cleared off the line.
But a pinpoint cross from the left headed home by Kilduff delighted of the travelling support and earned the visitors a vital point.
The dangerous AZ forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh hit the right-hand post within two minutes of kick-off and followed it up with several dangerous runs from the right.
A great run by Horgan, probably Dundalk's man of the match, from the left into the box set up David McMillan but he shot wide for his first chance of the game.
McMillan was dangerous, turning in the penalty area when one on one against a sluggish looking Ron Vlaar but he could not convert.
Midway through the half Hogan ran from 30 yards out into the box and shot but could not beat AZ keeper Sergio Rochet who produced a great save.
The Dutch almost broke the deadlock just before half-time, Fred Friday spinning in the box to thump it into the net but it was ruled offside in a highly questionable call by Maltese referee Clayton Pisani.
AZ piled on the pressure after the break and Derrick Luckassen was allowed to run unchallenged towards the back post from a free-kick - needing another last-ditch clearance from Dundalk to stop him.
After an hour AZ took the lead with Wuytens challenging for a cross and clashed with Dundalk keeper Rodgers as he came for the ball, with Wuytens' touch decisive.
O'Donnell then saw yellow for the second time and AZ attempted to wrap up the game, Boyle clearing off the line as they pressed.
But with Dundalk on the back foot the Dutch could not kill the match off and Kilduff stepped up for a crucial equaliser.