Dundalk twice came from behind in the first half at Tallaght Stadium to leave their Europa Conference League tie with FCI Levadia evenly poised ahead of next Thursday's second leg, but they may well regret not taking a lead to the Estonian capital.
Despite twice trailing to the visitors following an early double by Bogdan Vastsuk that was cancelled out by firstly Will Patching and then David McMillan, Vinny Perth’s side went on to boss the game without finding the third goal that their efforts deserved.
Defensive lapses were shown up in the early stages as Estonian cap Vastsuk gave his side the lead after just 66 seconds.
While that goal was cancelled out within 73 seconds by Patching, he was gifted another goal on 19 minutes.
To their credit, the Lilywhites were the better side after that, with McMillan deservedly equalising on 27 minutes before they went on to dominate proceedings without ever really testing Karl Andre Vallner.
The Louth men, who beat the Meistriliiga leaders over two legs during Stephen Kenny's tenure three years ago, had a number of decent penalty shouts turned down either side of half-time. Their failure to win any of them or find the killer pass to cut open a shaky defence means the initiative could be with Vladimir Vassiljev and Marko Savic’s side ahead of the second leg at the A Le Coq Arena next Thursday.
The game got off to a frantic start, with Levadia taking the lead after just 66 seconds with former Reading trainee Vastsuk slotting home after a good break down the left by Ernest Agyiri.
Dundalk were level within 73 seconds, however, with Daniel Kelly breaking up the right before laying back to Patching at the edge of the area for him to fire home his second European goal of the season with a crisp finish past Vallner.
The hosts had the better chances after that, with McMillan having a shot blocked by the header of Levadia skipper Brent Lepistu before captain Andy Boyle had a header deflected over from Patching’s corner.
The Louth men fell behind yet again on 19 minutes, however, when a mistake by Wilfried Zahibo - in for the absent Michael Duffy in the only change from the first round victories over Newtown - allowed Vastsuk through on goal, with the midfielder making it 2-1 with a neat dink over the advancing Alessio Abibi.
Kelly passed up a good chance to level six minutes later when he glanced well wide from Darragh Leahy’s cross after Vallner had failed to deal with Raivis Jurkovskis’ initial delivery.
The equaliser would arrive in the 27 minute though with Latvia international Jurkovskis doing well up the right before pulling the ball back to McMillan, who swivelled to slot home the 13th European goal of his career.
Dundalk had a couple of penalty appeals before the break and were perhaps unlucky not to win one on 44 minutes when Patching went down in the box under a challenge from goalscorer Vastsuk, but Czech referee Miroslav Zelinka failed to take any action.
The Estonians almost restored their advantage within four minutes of the restart when Zakaria Beglarishvili had a shot spilled by Abibi, but fortunately for the home side Patrick McEleney was on hand to clear the danger before Agyiri could pounce.
It would take until the 65th minute for the next chance to arrive, with the ball breaking to McEleney at the edge of the box only for his effort to deflect out for a corner that ultimately came to nothing.
A similar incident emerged within a minute after another McEleney effort, with Patching’s corner on this occasion falling to the unmarked McMillan.
He appeared to be pushed in the back by Frank Liivak as he rose to get his head to it but yet again referee Zelinka showed now interest in Dundalk’s penalty appeals.
Substitute Greg Sloggett then flashed a shot from wide on the right just wide as the hosts upped the tempo before having a corner taken off his head by Vallner as the game entered the final 10 minutes.
Levadia would then have a late chance of their own when the ball broke to Vastsuk in the box but his effort at completing his hat-trick was slashed out for a throw.
McEleney then went close to what would have been a glorious winner in the first minute of stoppage time when he weaved his way into the box past a number of challenges only to see his shot pushed over by Vallner.
It was not to be in the end and now Dundalk most focus on a tricky FAI Cup trip to Limerick to face Treaty United on Sunday before hopefully finishing the job in Tallinn next week, where the prize for the winners is a third qualifying round tie with Dutch side Vitesse.
Dundalk: Alessio Abibi; Raivis Jurkovskis; Andy Boyle, Sonni Nattestad, Darragh Leahy; Sam Stanton (Sean Murray 75), Wilfried Zahibo (Greg Sloggett 58); Daniel Kelly, Will Patching, Patrick McEleney; David McMillan (Ole Erik Midtskogen 87).
Subs not used: Peter Cherrie, Niall Brady, Cammy Dummigan, Val Adedokun, Ryan O’Kane, Mark Hanratty, Han Jeong-woo.Levadia
Tallinn: Karl Andre Vallner; Ilja Antonov (Trevor Elhi 56), Maximiliano Ugge, Maksim Podholjuzin, Milijan Ilic (Rasmus Peetson HT); Brent Lepistu; Frank Liivak (Karl Rudolf Oigus 79), Marko Putincanin, Bogdan Vastsuk, Ernest Agyiri (Mark Oliver Roosnupp 67); Zakaria Beglarishvili (Robert Kirss 67).
Subs not used: Artur Kotenko, Milan Mitrovis, Luka Lukovis, Markus Jurgenson, Amar Yunis Abdallah, Hannes Anier.
Referee: Miroslav Zelinka (Czech Republic).