Sclerotinia head rot (SHR), caused by the necrotrophic fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, is one of the most devastating sunflower crop diseases. Despite its worldwide occurrence, the genetic determinants of plant resistance are still largely unknown. Here, we investigated the Sclerotinia-sunflower pathosystem by analysing temporal changes in gene expression in one susceptible and two tolerant inbred lines (IL) inoculated with the pathogen under field conditions. Differential expression analysis showed little overlapping among ILs, suggesting genotype-specific control of cell defense responses possibly related to differences in disease resistance strategies. Functional enrichment assessments yielded a similar pattern. However, all three ILs altered the expression of genes involved in the cellular redox state and cell wall remodeling, in agreement with current knowledge about the initiation of plant immune responses. Remarkably, the over-representation of long non-coding RNAs (lncRNA) was another common feature among ILs. Our findings highlight the diversity of transcriptional responses to SHR within sunflower breeding lines and provide evidence of lncRNAs playing a significant role at early stages of defense.