Airtricity League Champions Dundalk were held by Danske Bank Premiership Champions Linfield at Windsor Park tonight in the first leg of the Unite the Union Champions Cup.
Shayne Lavery opened the scoring for the home side in the early stages but Daniel Kelly equalised after the break, leaving it all even at 1-1 ahead of the second leg on Monday night at Oriel Park.
Dundalk left Michael Duffy, Robbie Benson and Sean Gannon on the bench whilst Chris Shields, who was suspended for the Extra.ie FAI Cup Final, returned to the side.
The Lilywhites controlled the vast majority of the contest at Windsor Park but, it was the home side who went into an early lead. Northern Ireland international Shayne Lavery found space on the left-side of the area and smashed the ball home past Gary Rogers in the eighth minute.
Dundalk responded well and in the 24th minute, Vinny Perth’s side almost pulled themselves level. Jamie McGrath, one of the stand-out performers for Dundalk, worked the ball down the left before he found Jordan Flores and he saw his left-footed curling effort go narrowly wide.
Six minutes later, Dundalk had their best chance of the first 45 minutes. John Mountney’s corner was flicked on by Pat Hoban and Andy Boyle’s powerful header was tipped onto the bar and behind.
The Lilywhites continued their positive play into the second-half and six minutes after the break, they were level. Hoban’s through-ball and Daniel Kelly’s run caught the Linfield defence square, and Kelly finished neatly into the bottom corner.
Dundalk introduced Duffy and Gannon as they went for the winner at Windsor Park, and it was Hoban who almost provided it in the 64th minute. A fantastic move from the SSE Airtricity League Champions as McGrath found Kelly on the right and his powerful cross almost found the head of Hoban.
The Lilywhites continued to create chances and almost found the winner two minutes from time. A mix-up at the back saw substitute Georgie Kelly sneak in behind as he pressed the keeper Gareth Deane, but Deane got just enough on it to clear.
Kelly had the final chance of the game in added-time as Duffy’s low cross found the Dundalk striker but after he turned six-yards out, his shot was well blocked to see the first leg end level.
Linfield: Gareth Deane (GK), Mark Stafford, Jimmy Callacher, Joel Cooper (Andrew Waterworth 65), Kirk Millar, Shayne Lavery, Matthew Clarke, Stephen Fallon (Andrew Mitchell 86), Bastien Hery, Jamie Mulgrew (C), Niall Quinn.
Subs not used: Rohan Ferguson (GK), Joshua Robinson, Matthew Shevlin, Daniel Reynolds, Chris Casement.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers (GK), Sean Hoare, Chris Shields, Jordan Flores, John Mountney (Michael Duffy 58), Patrick Hoban (C) (Georgie Kelly 81), Jamie McGrath, Cameron Dummigan (Sean Gannon 63), Daniel Kelly, Dean Jarvis, Andy Boyle,
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (GK), Brian Gartland, Robbie Benson, Dane Massey.
Referee: Ian McNabb