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DUNDALK put themselves in the Setanta Sports Cup driving seat after a two one win over a frustrated Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.
Both Lilywhites goals came from first half penalties by Richie Towell before a late Eamon Zayed strike gave the Hoops hope heading into the second leg.
After a frantic first ten minutes which the away side dominated, they were rewarded. Stephen O’Donnell slid through John Mountney and he was then felled by young stopper Craig Hyland.
Referee Paul Tuite took one look before awarding the penalty. Towell stepped up, and with the utmost confidence smashed the ball to the right of Hyland to put the Louth side in front after 11 minutes.
That lead may have been doubled midway through the opening period, a corner swung in from the left was met by the head of Andy Boyle and he looped the ball over Hyland, but also past the post to spare the keepers blushes.
The game continued to ebb and flow with the visitors on top, and the Hoops looking void of the creativity lost to the injury of Marty Waters and the resting of Ronan Finn and Gary McCabe.
That sloppyness paid dividends for the Lilywhites just past the half hour. Shane Robinson lost the ball on halfway and after it was played into Mountney down the right, he broke into the area.
As he did so, Conor Kenna, in an effort to stop Mountney, fouled him. Allowing Towell the opportunity to double his tally from the penalty spot. He did just that, careering the ball powerfully into the net to put his side two in front.
Following the goal, Rovers began to stir. Sean O’Connor swung an inviting corner into the area and Kenna, trying to make amends for the penalty concession, headed over with Peter Cherrie looking beaten.
Kenna could again have forced a save out of Cherrie right on the break but, after and O’Connor free kick was knocked down into his path, the skipper lost his footing and the chance was gone.
The introduction of Finn at the break brought a change of formation with Karl Sheppard going out to the right but the Hoops still looked void of a final touch to the prodding.
A Sheppard shot the only effort to show for the opening ten minutes of the second period, and once again that didn’t trouble Cherrie.
On the hour mark, Dundalk should have had a third. Towell was this time the architect, his phenomenal pass finding Dave McMillan through on goal.
He raced onto the ball and decided to try a dink over Hyland which was unfortunately for the former UCD man, was saved by the keeper before ricocheting off the striker to safety.
Once again Dundalk tested Hyland though, this time on 71 minutes. Excellent left-back Dane Massey floated inside before striking a tame effort at the keeper to save.
Just moments later, Hyland could do nothing. The substitutes combined as Ruaidhri Higgins and Pat Hoban filtered the ball into the box and the latter should have scored but he caressed the ball agonisingly wide of the busy stoppers post.
Towell really had a superb night, and he would have liked to have capped it with an assist. Hoban latched onto his pass but this time his angle was closed by Hyland and the chance evaporated into the west Dublin air.
The home side got a lifeline for the tie with six minutes left. McCabe roamed through the Lilywhite defence before squaring the ball to Zayed who prodded the ball home from four yards out.
That was the closest the Hoops came to Dundalk though who hold a precious lead heading into the second leg in Oriel Park.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Simon Madden, Robert Cornwall, Conor Kenna, Luke Byrne; Dean Kelly (Ronan Finn 46), Robert Bayly, Shane Robinson (Ryan Brennan 83), Sean O’Connor; Karl Sheppard (Gary McCabe 58), Eamon Zayed.
Subs not used: Barry Murphy (GK), Sean Heaney, Jason McGuinness, Ciaran Kilduff.
Booked: Robinson (5), Hyland (10) , Bayly (51).
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Stephen O’Donnell (Ruaidhri Higgins 52), Richie Towell; John Mountney (Darren Meenan 80), Kurtis Byrne; David McMillan (Pat Hoban 68).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (GK), Simon Kelly, Mark Griffin, Daryl Horgan.
Booked: Shields (44).
Referee: Paul Tuite
Extratime.ie man of the match: Richie Towell (Dundalk)