Close but no cigar, as Dundalk fail to stop the count in a devastating defeat to Rapid Wien.
Goals from Patrick Hoban and a pair of David McMillan penalties were not enough to even secure a point as Dundalk’s European goalkeeping woes continued.
It was the dream start for the Lilywhites, a searching ball down the right from Sean Hoare found Sean Gannon. The wing-back laid it back to Chris Shields who delivered a first-time cross toward Hoban. The Galwegian outmuscled centre-half Maximilian Hofmann and headed his effort into the ground which bamboozled Paul Gartler in the Rapid the goal and nestled in the bottom corner.
Dundalk took confidence from their start and aimed to play through the lines, keeping possession. Shields was at the heart of everything good for the Louth-men, he quarterbacked the attacks while simultaneously shielding the back three.
Rapid, like the Town have failed to pick up any points so far in the group. The onus was now on the Austrians to push forward and so they did.
Christoph Knasmuller glanced wide after 14 minutes, but in the 22nd minute the Austrians were level.
Darragh Leahy cleared but could only manage to send the ball 40 yards up the pitch. Rapid took possession inside the opposition half and the ball found its way to skipper Dejan Ljubicic.
Ljubicic approximately 35 yards out unleashed an absolute howitzer which flew over the head of Aaron McCarey and kissed the underside of the crossbar before finding the net. The Monaghan shotstopper ought to have done better.
Even with parity restored, the away side continue to cause Rapid problems. A swift Dundalk counterattack saw a beautiful switch of play from the left to the right. Jordan Flores timed his pass perfectly into the path of Michael Duffy whose touch let him down as he bore down on goal and could only muster a weak effort on goal. Opportunity missed.
Ten minutes before the half, Hoare whistled a header just past the back post from a Duffy corner as Dundalk looked dangerous every time they went forward.
For all Dundalk’s attacking play, Rapid caused just as many problems in a game that was end to end. Five minutes later Ercan Kara nodded wide when left unmarked in a second phase of play after a Rapid set piece.
Right on the half, McCarey was grateful when a Knasmullner volley from 9 yards out was straight at him as he parried well. An entertaining half finished how it had started.
The second period started in similar vein to the first, both teams looking to play on the front foot and deploy a high press.
The flow of the game was broken up after Mateo Barac was on the receiving end of his own keeper’s glove, his nose planted across his face.
Just after the hour mark a floated cross to the back stick was met by Andy Boyle who couldn’t nudge it across the goal.
A few minutes later, Flores found Duffy on the diagonal, but he could only volley into the side netting as he was closed down by Mario Sonnleitner.
Perhaps the brightest spark for the Austrians was Thorsten Schick. Schick found too much space before going back onto his left and striking toward goal. Hoare blocked once more.
The Viennese were in the ascendency. McCarey had to be alert to a succession of chances, saving well from Sonnleitner, Knasmuller and Yusuf Demir.
McCarey who had recovered well after the concession of the first goal could do nothing about the second. A raking ball from left to right was volleyed by Schick and saved well by McCarey, however he could only divert it into the path of Kelvin Arase who nodded into an empty net. Gut-wrenching with just over ten minutes remaining.
Nathan Oduwa, Sean Murray, and McMillan had all been introduced to refresh the team. Just three minutes after going behind Oduwa picked up the ball and surged in field. He slipped in John Mountney, but the ball was intercepted, McMillan pounced on the loose ball before being taken out by Sonnleitner. Penalty for Dundalk.
McMillan stood up to take it and went low to the ‘keeper’s left where he got two hands on it but could only pushed it into the net. Another poor effort from the keeper but Dundalk didn’t mind.
Gregg Sloggett should’ve put them ahead just two minutes later, heading wide from 6 yards after being left unmarked.
Could the Lilywhites hold out now for an important away point? No was the answer. A minute after missing the guilt-edge chance Dundalk were punished. A short corner was taken, a cross from the right, McCarey nowhere near it, and Hofmann heads into an empty net. Sickening.
A minute into injury time, wonderkid Yussuf Demir hit a beautiful low left-footed finish into the far corner as Dundalk had pushed on trying to get the equaliser. Game over 4-2.
Oduwa continued to dazzle, his footwork is different class. He again was taken down inside the box in the 95th minute. McMillan stepped up and put it away, but it was too little too late.
Dundalk score three goals away from home and still fail to pick up points, plenty of positives but unfortunately just not good enough.
Rapid Wien: Paul Gartler (GK); Maximilian Hofmann, Mateo Barac (Mario Sonnleitner 55) Filip Stoijkovic; Christoph Knasmullner (Yusuf Demir 72), Dejan Ljubicic (C), Dejan Petrovic (Srdjan Grahovac 72), Thorsten Schick, Maximilian Ullman; Ercan Kara, Kelvin Arase.
Unused Substitutes: Richard Strebinger (GK), Leo Greiml, Melih Ibrahimoglu, Koya Kitigawa.
Booked: Maximilian Hofmann (20), Filip Stoijkovic (27), Mario Sonnleitner (81), Thorsten Schick (89).
Dundalk FC: Aaron McCarey (GK), Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle; Sean Gannon (John Mountney 65), Chris Shields (C), Gregg Sloggett, Jordan Flores (Sean Murray 76), Darragh Leahy (Cameron Dummigan 65); Patrick Hoban (David McMillan 76), Michael Duffy (Nathan Oduwa 72).
Unused Substitutes: Gary Rogers (GK), Jimmy Corcoran (GK), Brian Gartland, Daniel Kelly, Jamie Wynne, Stefan Colovic.
Booked: Sean Hoare (27), Daniel Cleary (45 +2), Cameron Dummigan (82).
Referee: Trustin Farrugia Cann (Malta).
Extratime.com Player of the Match: Chris Shields (Dundalk).