By James Rogers
Two goals in as many minutes from Pat Hoban and Michael Duffy saw Dundalk get the better of Levadia Tallinn at Oriel Park last night.
The 31st and 33rd minute strikes sees Stephen Kenny’s side set up a Europa League second qualifying leg double header with Cypriot outfit AEK Larnaca, with the first leg on home soil next Thursday.
The Louth men will arguably have to be much better against a side that eliminated Cork City at the same stage last year having been put under the cosh by the Estonians for long periods.
Leading through Dylan Connolly’s first leg goal, it was two moments of magic that sealed the game with Hoban heading his 22nd goal of the season before Duffy followed up with a stunning volley soon after.
Roman Debelko did pull a goal back for Levadia just before the break to ensure a tense second half but Gary Rogers was rarely troubled as the SSE Airtricity League leaders saw the game out to become only the 19th League of Ireland side to win both legs of a European tie.
It was a tetchy first half of few chances and six bookings, four of which went the visitors’ way. They were fired up for it in the early stages but it was Dundalk who conjured up the first shot on target on six minutes when Lepmets got down to save from Hoban.
There was a definite needle to it and that continued when Hoban went close again on 25 minutes. Chris Shields floated a ball into the box with the striker getting up above Lepmets to crash a header off the bar but referee Adrien Jaccottet gave a free out.
If Hoban had no luck on that occasion then there was no stopping him on 31 minutes. Sean Gannon found space on the right to cross with the Galway man getting across Igor Dudarev to send a deft header to the net off the inside of the left hand post.
Within two minutes Dundalk were two ahead with a truly magical goal. There appeared little on when Jamie McGrath dinked a ball to the back post but Duffy met it first-time on the volley to hammer a shot past Lepmets from what had seemed like an impossible angle.
Levadia were in no mood to throw in the towel though and after Marcellin Gando had a goal ruled out for offside they pulled one back three minutes before the break when Roman Debelko raced through after Brian Gartland had upended Nikita Andreev to fire low past Gary Rogers.
The Ukrainian striker then went close to levelling matters within five minutes on the restart when he found space on the right to get a shot away but thankfully for Dundalk his effort was across the face of goal and wide.
Aleksandar Rogic’s side began to pile on the pressure with Nikita Andreev heading just over on 65 minutes before Svraka stung the palms of Rogers a minute later as they pressed for a way back into the game.
Andreev then dragged another effort wide on 75 minutes before glancing another header off target eight minutes later.
Dundalk did have a chance to seal the game three minutes from the end when a Hoban cross just evaded the inrushing Robbie Benson but they held out well for the win in the end to advance to the second qualifying round.
Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey; Shields, Benson; Connolly (Adorján 62), McGrath, Duffy (Chvedukas 83); Hoban (Kelly 92). Subs not used: Sava, Murray, Cleary, Jarvis.
Lepmets, Jurgenson (Peetson 88), Dudarev, Podholjuzin, Kruglov; Gando (Roosnupp 64), Tkachuk, Svraka, Harin (Nesterov 80); Debelko, Andreev. Subs not used: Pikker, Morozov, Marin, Domov.
A Jaccottet (Switzerland).