Shayne Lavery fires Linfield into lead but Dundalk battle back for Champions Cup draw
Daniel Kelly deprived Linfield the victory they craved in the inaugural Unite the Union Champions Cup tie with a second-half equaliser.
The Blues enjoyed the perfect start to the first-leg clash at Windsor Park when Shayne Lavery shot them into an early lead.
But any hopes of David Healy’s team taking an advantage into Monday night’s return fixture at Oriel Park were dashed early in the second half when Kelly struck.
Even though Irish Football Association recently poured cold water on a proposed All-Island League suggested by Irish businessman Kieran Lucid, Unite still signed up to a three-year deal to sponsor the cross-border tournament that will see the Danske Bank Premiership champions go head-to-head with the League of Ireland title holders in a two-legged shootout.
It’s certainly a lucrative prospect for both clubs – the eventual winners will pocket a hefty 50,000 Euro, with the runners-up picking up half of the package.
Importantly, there is a further 25,000 Euros ring-fenced for community projects in the competing teams’ local areas.
Linfield roared from the traps and were in front on only nine minutes.
Skipper Jamie Mulgrew sent Lavery hurtling through the middle and, after tricking his way past Sean Hoare and Andy Boyle, he sent a fierce shot into the bottom corner, leaving Gary Rogers totally stranded.
The shell-shocked visitors responded in a positive manner. Patrick Hoban fired wildly over the top before a sweet move involving Kelly and Hoban resulted in Jordan Flores curling a 20-yard shot just past the post, much to the relief of Gareth Deane.
Dundalk then took a firm foothold of the game and came within inches of levelling on the half-hour.
John Mountney whipped in a corner-kick from the right, which was met by the head of Boyle but his effort was brilliantly touched into the crossbar by the outstretched glove of Deane.
Linfield then missed a wonderful chance to extend their lead two minutes before the break.
Matty Clarke’s piercing run opened up the visiting defence and, when he slipped the ball to Joel Cooper, he could only blast his effort past the post, with the unmarked Lavery screaming for a pass in the middle.
Dundalk asked the early questions after the break and Flores again went close on 49 minutes with another low curling shot from the edge of the box that sneaked just wide.
The Blues immediately hit back with Kirk Millar’s free-kick headed away by Jamie McGrath when his shot appeared to be destined for the top corner.
But the team from the south were level on 51 minutes. Kelly was allowed time and space to pick his way through the middle after latching on to a pass from Hoban before drilling a low shot past Deane.
They almost struck again with another lightning raid. This time Kelly provided the inch-perfect cross that Hoban somehow failed to convert just six yards out.
LINFIELD: Deane, Stafford, Callacher, Cooper (Waterworth, 65), Millar, Lavery, Clarke, Fallon (Mitchell. 86), Hery, Mulgrew, Quinn
Subs (not used): Ferguson, Robinson, Shevlin, Reynolds, Casement
DUNDALK: Rogers, Hoare, Shields, Flores, Mountney (Duffy, 58), Hoban (G.Kelly, 81), McGrath Dummigan (Gannon, 63), D Kelly, Jarvis, Boyle
Subs (not used): Gartland, Benson, Massey, McCarey
REFEREE: Ian McNabb