Niall Newberry reports from Kadriorg Stadium
Dundalk did a professional job to overcame a plucky Levadia Tallinn side on Thursday evening and record a 1-0 win the first leg of their Europa League qualifier at Kadriorg Stadium.
The Lilywhites didn’t have it all their own way in Estonia’s capital but they will bring home a potentially-priceless away goal ahead of next week’s return leg at Oriel Park thanks to Dylan Connolly’s second half goal.
Last season’s Estonian Cup winners had the better of the opening exchanges and created the game’s first chance of note when Rasmus Peetson found himself in space before firing a low shot which went just wide of Gary Rogers' near post.
Levadia continued to pressurise the Dundalk rearguard and Yuri Tkachuk’s corner had to be headed away from danger by Patrick Hoban – although Rogers looked to have had it covered, the League of Ireland’s top scorer was taking no chances.
Dundalk grew into the match a bit more following that dose of early pressure from Levadia and Michael Duffy, who was rather unexpectedly passed fit to play, saw his shot deflected agonisingly wide.
The Lilywhites really should have gone in at the half-time break ahead after Robbie Benson and Duffy combined.
The latter exquisitely laid the ball back to Benson, but his shot was deflected over the bar by defender Maksim Podholjuzin.
Dundalk would have to wait just eight minutes after the restart though for that priceless away goal and what a goal it was.
Great build-up between Hoban and McGrath unleashed Duffy down the left and his low cross evaded the Levadia defence before being turned home by Connolly.
The hosts almost drew level when substitute Pavel Marin’s cross was almost diverted into his own net by Brian Gartland only for a stunning reaction save from Rogers, much to the relief of the visiting supporters.
Dundalk should have doubled their advantage 20 minutes from the end when Chris Shields showed excellent vision to play through the electrifying Connolly.
One-on-one with Sergei Lempets, the winger could only shoot straight at the Estonian international keeper and was denied his second of the game.
Levadia looked as though they had run out of steam at this point and Connolly was causing all sorts of problems for the hosts – he cut back to Hoban but the Dundalk striker’s first-time effort was well saved by Lempets.
The Lilywhites ultimately had to make do with just the one goal but will be confident of completing the job and setting up a second round date with Cypriot outfit AEK Larnaca this time next week.
Levadia Tallinn: Sergei Lepmets; Markus Jurgenson, Igor Dudarev, Maksim Podholjuzin, Dmitri Kruglov; Marcellin Gando (Pavel Marin 57), Yuriy Tkachuk, Rasmus Peetson (Muamer Svraka 67), Jevgeni Harin (Mark Oliver Roosnupp 76); Nikita Andreev, Roman Debelko.
Subs not used: Priit Pikker (gk), Igor Morozov, Kirill Nesterov, Pavel Domov.
Booked: Pavel Marin (69), Nikita Andreev (90), Markus Jurgenson (90).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Michael Duffy (Ronan Murray 90), Chris Shields, Robbie Benson, Dylan Connolly (John Mountney 88); Jamie McGrath (Krisztian Adorjan 81), Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Daniel Cleary, Karolis Chvedukas, Georgie Kelly.
Booked: Dane Massey (71).
Referee: Bojan Nikolic (Serbia).
Attendance: 1,000 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Chris Shields (Dundalk).
Cometh the hour, cometh the man! pic.twitter.com/zuRceLsSSe— Dundalk FC (@DundalkFC) July 12, 2018