Dundalk quietly confident ahead of Europa League opener

Giovagnoli tells players they have nothing to lose when Molde travel to Tallaght

Europa League Group B: Dundalk v Molde

Kick-off: 5.55pm, Thursday. Venue: Tallaght Stadium. On TV: Live on Virgin Media Two.

Filippo Giovagnoli insisted that he had nothing to lose when he accepted what looked an unlikely offer to take over at Dundalk a couple of months ago. Having gone to win rather big in the short time since, the Italian insists his players should feel similarly liberated now as they head into the opening game of their Europa League group stage campaign.

Though they generally looked the better side, there were spells in the playoff game against KI a couple of weeks back when Dundalk were well short of convincing but the 49-year-old insists that some nerves were natural given the scale of the stakes that night.

“We will not be nervous tomorrow,” he says now. “They had this problem against KI. It was a big thing the playoff, to get to this stage. Now I think they’re going to perform, they are relaxed, they have nothing to lose. We can show they can compete at this level.”

The Italian was reluctant to set targets beyond that but matching the four points the club achieved under Stephen Kenny four years ago seems a natural enough starting point. If there is to be any prospect of significantly exceeding that sort of accomplishment then beating Molde is almost a requirement and yet it will not be easily done.

The visitors have had to travel without their top scorer in the league, 27-year-old striker Leke James, one of four players along with Fredrik Sjolstad, Henry Wingo and Kristoffer Haraldseid, to miss the trip to Tallaght because of injury.

Back at home, though, they have just rediscovered their form after having suffered three straight defeats in a spell that pretty much put an end to the any hopes they had of retaining their title.

With a break from European qualifiers seeming to make a life a little easier, on Saturday they beat the league leaders 4-2 to go second again, with skipper Magnus Eikrem getting a couple of the goals from midfield. Bodo/Glimt still top the table by 16 points, though, and so Molde come here hoping to kick off a group stage campaign while still needing to do a bit to secure European football for next season.

“They’re very strong,” says Shane Keegan who leads the opposition analysis side of things at the Oriel Park outfit. “They were probably going through a little bit of an issue similar to our own in that they were struggling to juggle domestic football with European football but they have bounced back from that with two wins in their last two domestic games.

“Look, in terms of comparisons,” he continues, “I wouldn’t think that there’s a million miles between them and Sheriff [the Moldovan league champions, Dundalk put out on penalties last month], and obviously we acquitted ourselves very, very well in that game so we would be confident enough.

“They are a team that has a lot of quality all over the field rather than relying on one or two star names and that’s illustrated by the fact that their goals are shared around so much. I think that they will have a lot of attacking quality but I think we would be thinking that were will be one or two defensive areas that we could possible go and exploit.”

Molde's manager, Erling Moe, readily acknowledges the threat Dundalk's front line poses with Stefan Colovic, Pat Hoban and Michael Duffy all referenced in his prematch press conference. Chris Shields, meanwhile, was identified as "a warrior".

The 29-year-old midfielder would certainly be unlikely to be seen as one of the team’s worriers but Giovagnoli needs to be right about the collective confidence levels. The Airtricity League champions are relatively unburdened by expectations but there is rarely really nothing to lose and a bad start here could make for a difficult few weeks.