FC Viktoria Plzeň will head into their play-off second leg at NK Maribor with a two-goal advantage over their Slovenian counterparts after a late Michal Ďuriš strike swung the tie strongly in their favour.
The 2011/12 UEFA Champions League group stage contenders looked well placed when defender Marián Čišovský hit his fifth goal in qualifying in the eighth minute and Vladimír Darida doubled the advantage after the interval. Ante Čačić's men kept themselves in the contest courtesy of Aleš Mejač's beautifully struck away goal, but the two-goal lead was restored as substitute Ďuriš scored in the 89th minute.
With both teams undefeated at the top of their domestic leagues after five games, each had reason for confidence yet it was home goalkeeper Matúš Kozáčik who was forced into action first, repelling a sharp shot from Goran Cvijanovič.
The hosts quickly found their stride, however, and forced a flurry of corners, the fourth of which was fired back across goal by Darida for Čišovský to turn the ball into the corner at the back post. Darida thumped a header over shortly after, Milan Petržela had a drive saved at the near post, and prolific defender Čišovský saw a downward header bounce over the bar from yet another corner as Plzeň pushed hard for a second.
The visitors were unable to get their attacking game going and it appeared their chances of a first group stage appearance since 1999/2000 were slipping away when Darida timed his run perfectly to connect with Jan Kovařík's low cross from the left after 58 minutes.
With Maribor struggling to break down the home defence it appeared something special was needed to get them back into the tie, and it arrived through Mejač in the 66th minute, as the midfielder controlled a clearance with his first touch before driving a spectacular effort from distance into the corner of the net with his second.
Pavel Vrba's hosts reacted strongly, pushing to restore their advantage as Ďuriš and Petržela both fired off target. Eventually, the former gave his side a precious two-goal cushion for next Wednesday's return, guiding in František Rajtoral's cross in the dying moments.