Dundalk were left to rue what might have been after their European journey was ended by Vitesse at Tallaght Stadium despite a brave second half fightback.
Having been a minute away from a famous victory in the Netherlands in the first leg last week, Vinny Perth's side continued where they had left off in Arnhem and were more than worthy of another 2-2 draw at least here having left Thomas Letsch’s side sweating as they threatened what would have been a famous comeback.
In the end it was not to be however as the Eredivisie side clung onto first half goals from Matúš Bero and Yann Gboho to set up a Europa Conference League play-off with their Belgian neighbours Anderlecht next week despite a 71st minute penalty from Patrick Hoban setting up a tense finish.
Dundalk were immense on the night but two lapses at the back, coupled with one at the end of the first leg last week, ultimately proved their undoing.
The Lilywhites will now be hoping this sort of display can inspire a late push to get back into Europe next season, starting with a tricky away trip to face Derry City at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium at the weekend.
This is one they’ll stew over in between though as they were the better side for long periods.
However, an offside flag that denied them a lead after just 39 seconds and a series of fine saves from Vitesse goalkeeper Markus Schubert meant they never punished the Dutch outfit as they should have.
The home side were then undone by some sloppy defending at the other end as Bero and Gboho capitalised with two goals inside 10 first half minutes that had the tie pretty much wrapped up before the break.
Hoban’s spot kick had the 1,500 fans in attendance dreaming of at least extra-time but it was not to be as Shamrock Rovers remain the league’s sole representatives in Europe.
Dundalk almost got off to a dream start when Michael Duffy had the ball in the net inside 39 seconds after being slipped in behind Danilho Doekhi by Will Patching but his delight at beating Schubert was short-lived as the assistant referee immediately flagged for offside.
The home side then had a let-off of their own on five minutes when Alessio Abibi made a mess of dealing with a corner kick under no pressure. His punch landed to Doekhi whose effort had to be blocked on the line by Hoban.
The striker was then unlucky not to get on the end of Duffy’s cross after stealing in ahead of Alois Oroz on the quarter hour mark but he would go close on 22 minutes when he cut in from the right on his left foot before curling a shot towards the bottom left hand corner which Schubert had to turn around the post.
The resultant corner from Duffy then fell to first leg hero Patrick McEleney at the back post with the Derry man unleashing a vicious shot after controlling the ball on his chest which deflected behind for another corner.
This led to another Duffy corner which saw Sonni Nattestad rise highest to get a header away which Schubert tipped over the crossbar but Dundalk’s spell of pressure was ended by referee Alain Durieux who adjudged the Faroese international to have fouled and therefore awarded a free out.
Dundalk’s bright start then came to a deflating end when Vitesse took the lead on 28 minutes. Nikolai baden Frederiksen got the better of Nattestad before seeing his shot blocked by Andy Boyle. The ball then spun wickedly goalwards and with Abibi caught in no man’s land first leg goalscorer Bero was on hand to tap home from just a few yards out.
It could have got worse for the Lilywhites within a minute as the lively Million Manhoef broke up the right past Greg Sloggett before slipping a shot through the legs of Abibi but fortunately Boyle was on hand to clear off the line via the post.
The Italian-born Albanian goalkeeper’s nerves were evident and his hesitancy off his line almost gifted Vitesse a second on 36 minutes as Maximilian Wittek was allowed get a shot away which Abibi had to turn around the post.
The defensive frailities of the home side were laid bare two minutes later, however, when Vitesse doubled their lead with ease.
Sondre Tronstad found space on the left to set Gboho away and the former Rennes midfielder made no mistake in slipping a shot under the advancing Abibi to make it 2-0 on 38 minutes.
There would be a further let-off for Dundalk two minutes before the break when Tronstad found space on the right to pick out Oussama Darfalou but his header was straight at Abibi.
The Co Louth side almost had the perfect response five minutes after the restart when Will Patching found space on the right to cross but Duffy was unable to direct his header on target.
Darragh Leahy then went close to a spectacular lob of Schubert on 56 minutes after the former Schalke goalkeeper failed to get any great purchase on a punch clear on the edge of his box.
The visitors then had a rare chance on the hour mark when Riechedly Bazoer’s shot broke to Frederiksen on the left of the box but the Dane ballooned his effort well wide.
A lifeline then arrived in the form of a penalty after Tronstad was adjudged to have fouled Duffy as he battled to get on the end of Leahy’s cross with Hoban converting to make it 2-1 with 19 minutes to go.
David McMillan then had a shot from range on 81 minutes that flashed just wide before Duffy had a brilliant effort pushed around the post by Schubert four minutes later. The resultant corner then bobbled around the box with Raivis Jurkovskis getting a header in from close range that unfortunately was straight at Schubert.
McMillan then had another header saved by the former Germany U-21 international after getting up to meet a Duffy free kick.
McMillan then had another huge chance on the 90 minute mark when Daniel Kelly beat Tomáš Hájek on the right before squaring the ball across the six yard box but the striker just couldn’t get the touch that would have equaled the record for most goals by an Irishman in European club competition - currently held by Robbie and Roy Keane.
Sitting seventh in the SSE Airtricity League table, Dundalk now have work to do to get back to this stage next year but if they can reproduce this sort of display they’ll take some stopping.
Dundalk: Alessio Abibi; Cameron Dummigan, Andy Boyle, Sonni Nattestad (Raivis Jurkovskis 73), Darragh Leahy; Sam Stanton (Daniel Kelly 58), Greg Sloggett; Patrick McEleney, Will Patching (David McMillan 73), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.
Vitesse: Markus Schubert; Million Manhoef (Patrick Vroegh 78), Riechedly Bazoer, Danilho Doekhi (Toni Domgjoni 83), Alois Oroz, Maximilian Wittek; Matúš Bero, Yann Gboho (Tomáš Hájek 63), Sondre Tronstad; Nikolai Frederiksen (Julian Vonmoos 63), Oussama Darfalou.Referee: Alain Durieux (Luxembourg).