Dundalk in the driving seat as Stephen Kenny matches Pat Fenlon's Euro record
Levadia Tallinn 0 Dundalk 1
Stephen Kenny drew level with Pat Fenlon on 11 European wins as a manager after watching his Dundalk side comfortably see off Levadia Tallinn in their Europa League first round qualifier in Estonia.
Dylan Connolly was the match-winner on his first European start but the Lilywhites' progression to a second round meeting with AEK Larnaca is by no means a foregone conclusion.
The winger slid home the only goal eight minutes into the second half after Michael Duffy delivered an incisive ball from the left flank to give Kenny's men the advantage heading in to Thursday's return leg.
It's the 19th time this season that Duffy has assisted a team-mate in scoring and highlights his importance to the team. Kenny had declared the winger as doubtful beforehand but after passing a fitness test, he put in a man-of-the-match display alongside the equally impressive Robbie Benson.
The victory could have been more convincing had Dundalk converted some of their gilt-edged chances shortly before half time. Pat Hoban, Jamie McGrath and Benson were all unable to convert clear-cut openings.
"We're sort of kicking ourselves that we didn't make it easier for ourselves," Kenny said. "At 2-0, we'd be very confident then, with two away goals. It certainly won't be any easier next week."
Before taking the initiative midway through the first half, Dundalk were reliant on keeper Gary Rogers for denying the hosts.
Much has been made of the annual post-season departures from Oriel Park in recent years, yet the Lilywhites took to the pitch with four of the double-winning back five from 2015 – Sean Hoare being the relative newcomer. And that experience showed, particularly in the early stages.
Then Dundalk clicked into gear and gained reward via Connolly. Their passing progressively became crisper as they looked to put the tie to bed.
"It's not often you get an away victory in Europe and it's an important victory, but it's still only half-time," said Kenny.
Yet, only for a wonderful stop by Rogers, who got down low to claw away Pavel Marin's cross which had deflected off Gartland's heal, Levadia would have levelled against the run of play.
"Gary was excellent on the night. His handling was very good in the first half particularly. We're glad to get a clean sheet anyway. But we have a big job to do still."
Nonetheless, the Lilywhites will be warm favourites to complete the job in six days' time.
LEVADIA – Lepmets; Jurgenson, Dudarev, Podholjuzin, Kruglov; Gando (Marin 56), Tkachuk, Peetson (Svraka 67), Harin (Roosnupp 76); Debelko, Andreev.
DUNDALK – Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey; Shields, Benson; Connolly (Mountney 88), McGrath (Adorjan 81), Duffy (Murray 90); Hoban.
REF – B Nikolic (Serbia).