Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth has challenged his players to “step up” when they welcome Qarabag to Oriel Park for tonight’s Champions League second qualifying round first leg tie.
The 42-year-old believes the Azerbaijani champions – who have been in the group stages of the Europa League in four of the last five seasons and in the Champions League in the other – are the best side the Lilywhites will have faced in his seven seasons at the club.
Perth expects his side to spend a lot of time without the ball over the two legs but hasn’t ruled up an upset similar to that which they achieved when they beat BATE Borisov 3-0 in Tallaght three years ago.
“I think as a side Qarabag are up there with one of the better sides we’ve played against over the last six or seven years because of how technically good they are on the ball,” he said.
“I think that gives them an advantage over some of the other teams we’ve played against so we’re going to have to go up to another level and that has to be the challenge for the players.
“We have to be patient in the game.
“We’re going to have to understand that they’re going to have a certain amount of the football and we’re going to have to setup in a certain shape to suit that but at the same time we’ve got really good attacking players.
“Generally we score goals in games and it’s a night for someone to step up and score a big European goal for us and that’s the challenge for the players.
“It is Champions League football and the rewards in terms of the next round are huge for us so we’ll have a go. We certainly don’t feel the tie isn’t there to be won. We feel we have an opportunity to win the tie albeit it will be a very difficult tie.”
Perth admitted that the style of Gurban Gurbanov’s side meant his side would need to keep their concentration throughout.
“They’re a very good opponent. I suppose the difference compared to someone like Zenit would be that they would have had more established players.
“They weren’t as athletic and as technical as what these would be. We would see these as the type of side who would cause sort of British and Irish sides more problems because of their movement and one touch football so in that sense it is probably as difficult as we’ve had but at the same time we do see areas where we think we can exploit them in as well.”
Perth, who has stepped up this season having previously been number two to current Republic of Ireland U-21 boss Stephen Kenny, said it was vital that Dundalk took their chances if and when they presented themselves over the two legs.
“When you’ve got people like Duffy, McEleney, Sean Murray and Robbie Benson, we’re not stuck for attacking flair ourselves but it’s about keeping the tie alive,” he said.
“It’s about not conceding goals in Europe. Even in their own game Qarabag scored in the 90th minute to win 2-0 over two legs and Partizani had a big chance after 78 minutes one on one and they should have scored and that would have meant Qarabag were up against it.
“By keeping clean sheets and staying in the game, you’ll always get a chance to win a tie or at least put the opposition under pressure so that’s the way we would assess it. We need to stay in the tie in the first leg but we’re not a negative side so we’re not going to go out negatively all of a sudden after six or seven years.”
Perth will have virtually a full squad to pick from with only long-term absentees Stephen Folan and Jordan Flores sidelined. Michael Duffy returned to training on Saturday having missed the first qualifying round shoot-out win over Riga in Latvia last week due to his partner Emily McCarron giving birth to a baby boy that night.
Meanwhile, striker Patrick Hoban reiterated the importance of all of his team-mates remaining focused for the full 90 minutes tonight.
“They do leave spaces but they are so good on the ball too that you have to give them that respect as well but not too much at home.
“We have done a lot of work during the week, we have been drilled with every little bit of detail. Everyone needs to be on it 100% because if you are not you will get punished. It’s as simple as that in Europe, you will get punished by the high quality attacking football that these sides have but they do have their weaknesses they leave space and hopefully, we can exploit that,” said Hoban.