A dazzling second-half performance earned Dundalk a 2-1 victory against Hajduk Split as the Louth side went agonisingly close to qualifying for the third qualifying round on the Europa League.

Trailing 2-0 from the first leg at Oriel Park, Dundalk must have thought the tie looked done and dusted at half-time on a hot evening in Croatia, after the home side had added to their advantage.

Jean Evrard Kouassi raced on to a clever pass from Sandro Gotal and rifled the ball low past Gabriel Sava in the Dundalk goal despite the Italian getting a hand on the ball.

Dundalk did have their chances in the first half, with Richie Towell having a volley saved from inside the area just a minute before the Ivorian opened the scoring. Donal McDermott also had a stinging volley blocked by Zoran Nizic.

With the score at 3-0 on aggregate at half-time and Dundalk looking like they needed a major miracle, a heroic second-half performance very nearly saw them deliver the unthinkable.

It was the introduction of two substitutes which proved crucial in Dundalk swinging the game - and almost the tie - in their favour.

Patrick Hoban, who replaced McDermott in the 57th minute, was alert to a slack back pass from Goran Jozinovic and calmly rounded Dante Stipica before tucking the ball into the empty net.

With just over 15 minutes remaining, the Lilywhites shook the home side and their noisy fans to their very cores as Kurtis Byrne volleyed to the back of the net after connecting with a high-class cross from Chris Shields.

Despite setting up a grandstand finish, that one more clear-cut chance would not come the visitors’ way.

Richie Towell did manage to unleash one final shot after evading a whole host of defenders, but saw his strike from an acute angle saved.

The gallant defeat marked one of the greatest results in the club’s history as came within a kick of the ball of qualifying for the next round.

Hajduk Split: Stipica; Nizic, Milovic, Maloca, Jozinovic; Caktas (Bradaric HT), Vlasic (Maloku 76 ), Andelkovic; Kouassi (Maglica 62), Gotal, Jozinovic

Dundalk: Sava; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields, Higgins (Meenan 87); Mountney, Towell, McDermott (Hoban 57); McMillan (Byrne 68)

Referee: Ionut Maruis Avram (Romania)