Dundalk will be hoping it will be a case of history repeating itself as they welcome KI Klaksvik to the Aviva Stadium in tonight's Europa League encounter. 

A place in the group stages of the competition awaits the winner in this one-legged affair between the reigning Irish champions and the Faroe Islands equivalents. 

It took two narrow wins over the past two weeks for Dundalk to get to this stage of the competition, first scraping past Andorran side Inter d'Escaldes before defying the odds to knock out Moldova's Sheriff Tiraspol away from home following a penalty shoot-out. 

The visitors come to town on the back of a morale-boosting 6-1 victory over 1981 European Cup Winners Cup champions Dinamo Tblisi, having entered the tournament at a later round than Dundalk thanks to a Covid-awarded victory in the Champions League qualifiers. 

A remarkable situation awaits at the Dublin venue this evening as the Irish team go into the game as odds-on favourites to progress to the lucrative group stages. 

Dundalk, of course, have been here before back in 2016, as were Shamrock Rovers in 2011, but on both of those occasions, the League of Ireland side had to turn over well-respected opposition to reach the holy grail of Europe’s second-tier competition. 

The Lilywhites side who made it through to the group stages four years ago were the best Dundalk team of their five-year period of domination, playing for a manager who knew how to get every ounce out of his side. 

Stephen Kenny is no longer at the helm and his protégé, Vinny Perth, was a victim of his side’s indifferent form in 2020, however, the current crop, playing under new manager Filippo Giovagnoli, will believe that they still have the quality to get over this final hurdle. 

And of course, they do possess that quality and experience to progress to the group stages, and a strong contingent remain from that historic season in 2016, which should prove invaluable in their quest to advance. 

However, questions must be asked about the current form of this once near-invincible side, who as recently as the start of this league campaign opened with four wins out of five, just narrowly coming out the wrong side of a five-goal thriller in their top-of-the-table clash with Shamrock Rovers. 

Since the return to play in a post-Covid shortened league, the Oriel Park side have secured a meagre five points from six Premier Division games, which really is an incredible collapse in form for a side who won the league five times in the last six seasons, never experiencing such a slump. 

Of course, Perth’s exit would have contributed to the lack of cohesion in the side and the new man in charge has been trying to get the team back to a winning mentality. 

Giovagnoli was plucked from obscurity and now finds himself 90 minutes away from entering the history books by guiding a League of Ireland side into the group stages. 

And there were encouraging signs that this side could rediscover their form following a commanding display in Moldova against a decent Sheriff side with the Lilywhites starting to look a lot more like their old selves. 

Dundalk’s 4-0 home defeat to Shamrock Rovers can be dismissed as Giovagnoli effectively played his B team in that league match in order to fully prepare for tonight’s match. 

Chris Shields was the only man who played last week’s Europa League victory as well as the league match with the Hoops. 

The influential midfielder is ruled out of tonight’s game due to suspension and the Lilywhites will miss a lot more than the big man’s penalty-taking skills for this all-or-nothing encounter. 

Shields has been the driving force behind this Dundalk side over the past five years and they have missed his influence in big games before, so others will need to step up to take the side forward tonight. 

One player who is really starting to influence this Dundalk side is former Watford prospect Sean Murray, who can prove a real threat coming from midfield. 

Murray is two years with the club now but is perhaps only now starting to show the consistency of a player that a team can be built around. 

Other big-name players that need to stand up for Dundalk include goalkeeper Gary Rogers, Brian Gartland and talisman Patrick Hoban, while the creativity and flair needs to come from players like Patrick McEleny and Michael Duffy who both proved pivotal in recent successes at the club. 

New additions to the squad like Greg Sloggett are also starting to blend into this Lilywhites side and once they click tonight, they should prove too strong for the visitors. 

Dundalk had to move the game out of their home pitch at Oriel Park due to the limitations of the stadium and it is perhaps a touch ironic that the side should walk out at Lansdowne Road for a home game, as the new owners had previously looked at the possibility of playing some home games at the famous Dublin venue. 

Throughout the Kenny era, this Dundalk side often looked a stronger force away from the artificial turf of Oriel and Lansdowne Road has seen the best of the County Louth side in recent years. 

Remarkably, Dundalk have contested the last five FAI Cup finals, all of which were played on the hallowed turf in Dublin 4, and the blue riband fixtures have provided some excellent encounters, most notably the last two, which were played at a high tempo with real intensity and quality throughout. 

Dundalk won the 2018 edition with a real commanding performance against Cork City, while they lost out on penalties in 2019 to Shamrock Rovers following an intriguing game between the top two sides in the country. 

So tonight, despite the absence of any vocal support for the champions of Ireland, the game will feel like a real home fixture for Dundalk such is their familiarity with the place. 

And with the stage set at the Aviva Stadium, the iconic arena should inspire this Dundalk side to rediscover their five-year form to ensure that they will be playing football all the way into the winter.

Follow Dundalk v KI Klaksvik (kick-off 7.30pm) via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the RTÉ news app, or watch live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player from 7pm.