Dundalk became the first side to advance to the second qualifying round of the new UEFA Europa Conference League with victory over Newtown at Park Hall.
Already 4-0 up from last Thursday's first leg at Oriel Park, the Louth men made sure of their advancement with a 52nd minute strike from Michael Duffy ensuring the club’s biggest ever aggregate victory in Europe.
Vinny Perth’s side never really had to get out of second gear against the Welsh outfit and can now look forward to a meeting against either Levadia Tallinn of Estonia or St Joseph’s of Gibraltar in the next round.
The result sees them equal Shamrock Rovers’ record of 18 European wins. It’s also just the second time in the club’s history they have kept clean sheets over 2 legs following on from Riga in 2019.
The game itself was a poor affair with Chris Hughes’ men showing good early spirit but with a 4-0 aggregate lead heading into the game it was no surprise that it resembled a friendly for large periods.
The home side started on the front foot and could well have pulled a goal back inside four minutes when a loose pass from Patrick McEleney inside his own penalty area was intercepted by James Davies who was unable to punish the mistake before Andy Boyle cut the chance out.
The Welsh outfit continued to press after that but it was Dundalk who would have the first shot of the game on 20 minutes when a short corner from McEleney picked out Sam Stanton at the edge of the area but his effort was gathered comfortably by David Jones.
The Newtown goalkeeper was then called into action again to save from Michael Duffy on 27 minutes before Newtown almost scored directly from the break a minute later. Naim Arsan looked to slip Aaron Williams in and while Darragh Leahy got across to block him, the loose ball broke to James Rowland who fired to the left and wide.
The best chance of the half then arrived on 40 minutes when Duffy broke on the left. His attempted pull back towards McEleney was overhit but did fall to Daniel Kelly who blazed over.
Alex Fletcher would then have a half chance three minutes later but his effort deflected up off Stanton and into the arms of Abibi.
McEleney then almost broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion four minutes after the restart when a quick free kick from about 45 yards out caught out Jones only for the goalkeeper’s blushes to be spared by the upright.
The breakthrough did arrive on 52 minutes when Dundalk broke at pace following a Newtown free kick with Duffy racing from halfway onto Kelly’s pass before slotting under Jones.
McEleney then tried another spectacular effort from inside his own half two minutes later only to fire over on this occasion.
Dundalk then had a let-off on the hour mark when Abibi spilled a George Hughes free kick. Davies fired the loose ball wide but the flag was up for offside anyway.
Sonni Nattestad then had a header saved by Jones three minutes later following a Will Patching corner before Fletcher scuffed a good opportunity wide at the other end shortly after.
Kelly then had a shot from range flash wide before teenage substitute Ryan O’Kane scuffed an effort harmlessly into the arms of Jones on 79 minutes after being teed up by Han Jeong-woo.
Abibi then had to be at his best to ensure Newtown didn’t pull a goal back a minute later when Jamie Breese’s cross fell to fellow substitute Nick Rushton whose effort was tipped over. The Albanian then followed up with another fine stop to deny Breese at point blank range from the resulting corner.
It looked like Dundalk would be awarded a penalty with five minutes to go when Patching went down in the box under a Kieran Mills-Evans challenge but Romanian referee Andrei Chivulete instead booked him for diving.
Ole Erik Midtskogen then had a great chance with three minutes to go after being picked out by Han’s pull back but he blazed high and wide.
Dundalk will now host either FCI Levadia or St Joseph’s at Oriel Park on Thursday week July 22nd with the Estonians, who they beat over two legs in 2018, 3-1 up from the first leg last week.
Newtown AFC: Dave Jones; Craig Williams, Kieran Mills-Evans, Callum Roberts, Naim Arsan; Alex Fletcher, James Rowland (Nick Rushton 61), George Hughes (Sean McAllister 87); James Davies, Aaron Williams, Lifumpa Mwandwe (Jamie Breese 73).
Subs not used: Khamrhan Steventon, Dave Rose, Shane Sutton, Jordan Evans, Dylan Downs, Ben Speake, Rhys Hesden, Alfie Jones.
Dundalk: Alessio Abibi; Raivis Jurkovskis, Andy Boyle, Sonni Nattestad, Darragh Leahy (Val Adedokun 57); Sam Stanton, Patrick McEleney (Han Jeong-woo 77); Daniel Kelly (Ryan O’Kane 69), Will Patching, Michael Duffy (Wilfried Zahibo 57); David McMillan (Ole Erik Midtskogen 69).
Subs not used: Peter Cherrie, Niall Brady, Mark Hanratty.Referee: Andrei Chivulete (Romania).