Dundalk boss Filippo Giovagnoli has set his sights on the Europa League play-offs after marking his European debut with a win in Andorra.
An early David McMillan strike saw the Lilywhites overcome Inter Club d’Escalades at the Estadi Comunal to set up a Europa League third qualifying date with Sheriff Tiraspol in Moldova next Thursday.
While that will be a step up in class for the SSE Airtricity League champions, the Italian – who succeeded Vinny Perth as interim head coach last month – feels that his side can rise to the occasion to continue their European journey beyond the next round.
“They’re going to be a better team than the Andorrans so it’s going to be a different challenge,” said the 49-year-old.
“We will need to prepare for the game really well but we have time this week so I’m looking forward to that.
“Our game plan won’t change but sometimes if the other team is better it’s easier to play good soccer because you’re facing someone who wants to play like you. I don’t know if that’s the case with Sheriff, we’ll have to check that, but playing someone better helps you play better. If you’re playing a team with plenty of cover who just want to counter attack then it’s more complicated.
“It’s a final now so we’re going there to win. It’s not good enough just to perform. We’re going there to win it,” he said.
Giovagnoli criticised the performance of Belarusian referee Viktor Shimusik, who dished out 10 yellows and a red on the night. He said were it not for the harsh 58th dismissal of centre half Andy Boyle his side would have won more comfortably.
“I think we we were unlucky with a few of the decisions from the referee and that created a few problems for us but the game was under control almost from the beginning.
“I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t finish all the chances that we had but I’m happy with the performance.
“Of course I wasn’t happy with the red card. The referee didn’t manage the game well.
“The Andorrans were really smart to provoke us and play a little bit dirty. They know the game and they’re experienced. These are players who play internationally so they tried to use everything outside soccer to create a kind of weird situation and actually they were very good at doing it. They achieved what they wanted by getting a man sent off and the referees weren’t sharp to be honest and that created problems.”
While Gary Rogers was rarely tested, Giovagnoli admitted he was concerned about the outcome up until the final whistle due to the way the game was being officiated.
“We controlled the game even with 10 players. Of course, when they bring the centre back Lima up who is big and strong it’s dangerous because with a long ball or something you never know and he knows how to go to ground as well. Of course, with the ref we were worried about any situation inside the box. I just had to say don’t touch them but thankfully they didn’t cause us too many problems in the end.”
The 49-year-old said he was pleased with the performance overall and his start at Dundalk, where he has now won his opening three matches in charge.
“The way that we controlled the game was good,” he said.
“We showed different kinds of movements between our 8 and our 10 which is something that we’re working on with the players. There were many good things at the back as well in the build-up and that’s the way we want to play. Now we have to go through the details and do it even better the next time.
“It’s been a great start. The players have responded really well and they are really professional. We’re looking forward to keep working with them.
“Me and (assistant) Giuseppe (Rossi) are so happy to be in Ireland and with Dundalk. We would love to extend our time here and create something special with this club and I hope we can do that together.
“We’re missing the fans right now but I hope they’re happy with the win,” he said.