David Wilson reports from Tallaght Stadium
A tale of two halves at Tallaght Stadium saw Dundalk fall to an opening-day defeat to Molde FK having led at half time.
Second-half goals, the first a volley from Etzaz Hussain and the second from the penalty spot, converted by Ohi Omoijuanfo, earned Molde the win.
Sean Murray had headed the Lilywhites into the lead ten minutes before the break, capping off a brilliant team move for his third goal in as many Europa League outings.
The opening ten minutes saw both sides try to grow into the game. Dundalk maintained a good shape without the ball, reverting to 4-5-1 at times, and kept the space between the lines to a minimum.
Michael Duffy was tipped to cause the Norwegians problems, and in the 24th minute he did so. An in-swinging cross to the back post was headed away by Kristoffer Haugen.
The ball looped up into the air where Patrick Hoban was on hand to nod in from close range, however to the disgust of the Dundalk bench he was adjudged to have fouled Martin Bjornbak as they wrestled for position inside the six-yard box.
Molde looked to build the ball up slowly from the back. Left-back Haugen bombed high up the pitch and continuously looked for the switch of play, which caused problems for John Mountney and Sean Gannon.
The 32nd minute saw the Norwegians go close. Magnus Wolf Eikrem’s deliveries were venomously whipped to the near post, Patrick Hoban was on hand to head clear.
The ball fell to the feet of Marcus Holmgren Pedersen and the full-back composed himself before sending a shot which whistled beyond the far post.
The game now kicked into some much-needed life. Just three minutes later, Dundalk produced football we have become accustomed to over the last seven or eight years.
The ball was caressed and moved between Messrs Brian Gartland, Sean Gannon and John Mountney.
Mountney played a one-two with Gannon before delivering a delicious first-time cross right on to the head of the on-rushing Sean Murray, who glanced the ball into the far corner. You would do well to find a better team goal scored in all of Europe this week.
Molde continued to be at their most dangerous from set pieces, but Dundalk were well drilled defensively and coped well with the aerial onslaught.
A blistering second-half performance followed from Erling Moe’s side, as they showed their pedigree by pinning Dundalk in their own box for much of the opening exchanges.
Eirik Hestad, together with Hussain, began to impose themselves on proceedings.
It was a matter of when, and not if, Molde were going to equalise. A period of possession saw Pedersen get down the right before his cross picked out Hussein toward the edge of the box.
The cultured midfielder expertly executed a volley which took an unfortunate deflection off Gannon before spiralling into the corner of the net.
In the 71st minute substitute the comeback was complete as substitute Erling Knudtzon was played in down the left by Omoijuanfo.
Knudtzon was bundled over by Ganno,n leaving the referee with no option but to give a penalty. Omoijuanfo stepped up and coolly despatched beyond Rogers, low to the Meathman’s right.
Molde had deserved their second-half lead as they played all the football. Dundalk were night and day from their first half performance.
The Norwegians passed the ball much quicker and with more authority than they did in the first half, which ultimately proved to be the difference between the two teams.
As the clock ticked toward 90, Filippo Giovagnoli made a triple substitution, reverting to a three at the back formation.
Dundalk peppered the Molde defence with crosses from Mountney, Stefan Colovic and Patrick McEleney but it was to no avail as the Norwegians, to their credit, defended manfully.
One would have to feel that that was a massive opportunity missed to earn points for Dundalk as, Rapid Vienna having pushed Arsenal all the way, Molde should be one the weaker of the other three.
Dundalk will travel to the RSC to take on Waterford before heading to the Emirates to take on Arsenal next Thursday, Molde will host Rapid Vienna.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon (David McMillan 77), Brian Gartland, Dan Cleary, Darragh Leahy (Cameron Dummigan 77); Chris Shields (C), Gregg Sloggett (Patrick McEleney 64), Sean Murray (Andy Boyle 77); Michael Duffy (Stefan Colovic 79, John Mountney; Patrick Hoban
Unused Substitutes: Aaron McCarey (gk), Sean Hoare, Jordan Flores, Daniel Kelly, Jamie Wynne.
Molde FK: Andereas Linde; Marcus Holmgren Pedersen, Martin Bjornbak, Stian Rode Gregersen, Kristoffer Haugen; Fredrik Aursnes, Etzaz Hussain; Magnus Wolf Eikrem (C) (Martin Ellingsen 82), Eirik Hestad, Matthis Boly (Erling Knudtzon 69); Ohi Omoijuanfo (Ola Brynhildsen 94)
Subs not used: Alexandro Crannix (gk), Mathias Ranmark (gk), Tobias Christensen, Mattias Mostrom, Birk Risa, Sheriff Sinyan, Eirik Ulland Andersen.
Booked: Stian Rode Gregersen (20).
Referee: Petri Viljanen (Finland).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Etzaz Hussein (Molde FK).