Dundalk should have been looking forward to their Europa League clash against Rapid Vienna with a weight off their backs, but a couple of late setbacks leave them with a bit of a cloud hanging over them.  

Having secured European football for another season with their third-place league finish, and the end of the domestic campaign finally handing them some relief from a gruelling schedule, it was all supposed to be plain sailing from here. 

However, first came the confirmation that star striker Patrick Hoban will be out for the rest of the season, having undergone surgery on an ankle injury. 

Then on Wednesday evening, news filtered through that manager Filippo Giovagnoli will be banned from the touchline for the game at the Aviva Stadium. 

Giovagnoli was not present at the club's pre-match press conference for the game, with coach Shane Keegan standing in for him. The Italian coach, who does not hold a UEFA Pro Licence, has been banned from "any function of a head coach" by UEFA for the time being. 

Giovagnoli was on the sidelines for Dundalk's Europa League games away to Arsenal and Rapid Vienna, however he was booked in Vienna and that incident appears to have prompted UEFA to make this decision. 

While the Dundalk management and backroom staff try to work out just what the ban means for them and how they will adjust, the players have their sights set firmly on claiming their first points of this Europa League group phase. 

The Lilywhites came closest to breaking their duck last time out in Vienna against tonight's opponents when they came out on the wrong side of a thrilling 4-3 encounter and for defender Daniel Cleary, the focus is very much on tightening up at the back. 

"I think if we keep a clean sheet, we'll be successful," he said. "Obviously we conceded four goals in the last game, which killed us after scoring three, but I think the key is keeping a clean sheet. 

"We showed how competitive we can be at the top level in Europe, we shouldn’t really fear many teams after scoring three goals away in Europe." 

Cleary’s defensive team-mate Sean Gannon echoed those sentiments and he believes that Dundalk have shown enough in the campaign thus far to be confident of a result at the Aviva.

"We’re not here to make up the numbers, we’re here on merit and we deserve to be where we are right now," he said.

"Although things have gone against us in previous games, we’ve got a lot of positives to take, we’ve been very competitive in the games and we’re here to win points. 

"Obviously, we haven’t done that so far, individual errors have contributed to that, but we’ve been very competitive in the games so far and we’re here to win points. As professionals when we go out onto the pitch, we don’t feel inferior to any team.

"It’s one of our goals to be at this level and now that we’re here we can’t just say 'we’re delighted to be here,’ we have to aim to win games and get points on the board." 

Gannon believes that the 4-3 defeat in Vienna has given his side something to build on and shown them that their opponents are not a side to be held in awe. 

"There's a lot of positives to take from the last game, we pushed them all the way and were so unlucky not to get something from the game. 

"We had even more chances to score but the balls just didn’t fall for us, for one reason or another, but I definitely think we’ve shown that we can compete at this level. 

"We’re going out there full of confidence after the last week or so." 

As mentioned, Dundalk will be without Hoban, who opened the scoring in the 4-3 defeat in Vienna, but aside from that they have a clean bill of health. 

Like Dundalk, Rapid Vienna will be without their head coach after Dietmar Kuhbauer did not travel with the group due to illness. Assistant coach Manfred Nastl will take charge in his place.

Midfielder Thorsten Schick revealed the mindset of the visitors who travel to the Aviva in search of another victory: "It will definitely be a tough challenge, we played against them a few weeks ago and we know what to expect.

"We really want to win the game and, at the end of the day, only the three points will count." 

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