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Dundalk expecting 'one of the hardest games' of the campaign as focus reverts to Europa League

The Lilywhites are in Austria to face Rapid Vienna this evening.

DESPITE FACING A side who have yet to earn a point, Dundalk’s game against Rapid Vienna this evening (5.55pm, Virgin Media Two/Sport) will be one of the most difficult of the Lilywhites’ campaign in Group B of the Europa League.

That’s the view of striker Patrick Hoban, who’s hoping the League of Ireland outfit can also get off the mark when they line out at the Allianz Stadion.

pat-hoban Patrick Hoban pictured during Dundalk's pre-match press conference in Vienna. Source: GEPA Pictures/Philipp Brem/INPHO

Like Dundalk, Rapid Vienna have been beaten in both of their games thus far. Nevertheless, Hoban knows the visitors will have their work cut out when they take on a team who currently sit in second place in the Austrian Bundesliga.

Dundalk, having taken the lead in their opening game against Molde in Tallaght, ultimately lost 2-1 to the Norwegians. That result was followed up by a 3-0 defeat away to English Premier League giants Arsenal.

Rapid Vienna squandered a 51st-minute lead in their 2-1 loss at home to the Gunners, before suffering a 1-0 defeat on the road last week at the hands of Molde.

“We’re underdogs in this competition,” said Hoban in Dundalk’s pre-match press conference. “We were against Molde, the same against Arsenal. We could have got a result against Molde but it wasn’t meant to be at the end of the night.

“In my opinion, Rapid Vienna are better than Molde. I think they have a lot more of an attacking threat that we need to be wary of, so I think this is possibly one of the hardest games. We’ll have to be right on it to come away with anything. Hopefully we do.”

Hoban’s assessment was echoed by Dundalk first-team coach Filippo Giovagnoli and assistant Shane Keegan, who has been impressed by this evening’s opponents’ unbeaten start to the season in their domestic league. 

With five wins and a draw yielded from their first six games, Rapid Vienna are two points adrift of defending champions RB Salzburg, who are chasing an eighth consecutive title. 

“I think the Molde result [against Rapid Vienna] was certainly a surprise,” Keegan said. “On all form guides you would have expected Rapid probably to win that. Their domestic form has been excellent so I think that was very much a blip rather than a showing of the general standard of the team, if that makes sense. 

a-view-of-training The Dundalk squad training last night at the Allianz Stadion. Source: GEPA Pictures/Philipp Brem/INPHO

“I would say that we were underdogs going into the Molde game and we’re probably even bigger underdogs going into this one, even though Molde did roll [Rapid Vienna] over. They’ve got tremendous quality in most areas of the field so it’s a serious, serious test.”

Rapid Vienna are Austria’s most successful club, boasting 32 league titles. However, they haven’t been crowned champions since 2008, with RB Salzburg dominant over the last decade or so.

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They failed to qualify for Europe last season, but in the previous campaign ‘Die Grün-Weißen’ reached the last 32 of the Europa League by emerging in second place, behind Villareal, from a group that also contained Rangers and Spartak Moscow.

For Dundalk, attention reverts to European matters following last weekend’s 1-1 draw with St Patrick’s Athletic. The Oriel Park outfit will be aiming to secure a Europa League berth again for next season when they conclude their Premier Division campaign with a home game against Sligo Rovers on Monday evening.

Patrick McEleney joins Dane Massey on the injury list for tonight’s game in Vienna, having been forced off with a groin problem during the meeting with Arsenal. 

According to Hoban, there were positives to take from the Emirates Stadium outing in spite of the resounding complexion of the scoreline in favour of Mikel Arteta’s side.

“As a team I thought we did really well in that first half. A seven-minute spell kind of killed us,” said the 29-year-old native of Galway.

“To play against quality opposition like that, you do have to surrender most of the ball and hopefully get a break or score from a set-play or something like that. It wasn’t meant to be on the night but the experience of playing a Premier League side was phenomenal.”  

britain-soccer-europa-league Patrick Hoban under pressure from Joe Willock and Shkodran Mustafi during Dundalk's defeat to Arsenal. Source: Matt Dunham

Tonight’s game will take place 72 hours after four people were killed and 23 others were wounded when a gunman went on a shooting rampage in the Austrian capital.

Hoban revealed that while the Dundalk players were a “small bit” concerned before departing on Tuesday morning, their fears were eventually eased.

“We saw it on social media and it was obviously horrible,” he said. “All you can do is give your condolences to the people who live here. It’s just tragic.

“We’re happy to be here to play a football match and hopefully we can put in a good performance, but it was definitely sad to see what happened here in the last couple of days.

“Seeing everything that happened, it is a bit scary, but the reaction from the people in Vienna, the police and the security that we have over here makes us feel safe.

“Once we got the go-ahead to come over and we knew that there was going to be a security plan in place for us, we felt a lot safer. We had no problems coming over and we feel safe where we are.”

Filippo Giovagnoli added: “We are in preparation for the game, like always, but of course we are aware of what happened and we feel really sorry.”

About the author:

Paul Dollery

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