Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth has called on his side to be brave as they bid to turn things around against Slovan Bratislava in Tallaght Stadium tonight (Tuesday).
Having lost last Wednesday’s first leg in Slovakia 1-0 courtesy of Davíd Holman’s 86th minute strike, the Lilywhites will have to do things the hard way if they’re to set up a Europa League play-off against either Ajax or PAOK next week.
Despite failing to get the away goal he desired at the Tehelné pole stadium last week, Perth said he took plenty of heart from the first leg and believes there’s a big night in his side to come.
“I felt we weren’t brave enough and that’s not like us,” said the 43-year-old.
“That’s the challenge, to be a little bit braver, albeit we’ve to keep the door closed as well and be pragmatic at times but I’d like to see us be a bit braver in the final third.
“I thought we controlled the ball lovely at times in the first leg but I just want them to be braver now and just believe in themselves and I think if they do that then there’s goals in them.
“Ultimately we came away from the game the other night really disappointed. Yes, we rode our luck a little at times but that’s what happens at the level that we’re operating off.
“It was almost a perfect performance if John Mountney scores at the end. Their keeper has made a brilliant save and a couple of brilliant saves at that. I’ve watched the game back and we’re just focusing on ourselves and not the noise around the place. I’m hearing a lot of noise about how we played but we’re working on how we’ll win this tie and I think we can win the tie.
“To be honest I think there’s a big moment to come from someone off the bench because that’s what European football is all about. I think there’s goals in our team, I really do, and that balance we’re after getting back will mean that we’ll have opportunities to score goals albeit against a very good side,” he said.
While Dundalk need goals, they can also ill-afford to concede as even one goal for Slovan would leave the League of Ireland champions requiring three to advance.
Perth said he had full confidence in his defence to keep the Slovakians at bay.
“Touch wood I think our defence this year has been solid. I’ve probably come in for a bit of criticism personally for how we’ve played at times this year but I think we’re starting to see a bit more balance in us.
“The midfield three over the last couple of weeks has given us a bit more balance. We’ve been putting square pegs into round holes a little bit over the season but to be where we are with what we’ve had to deal with in the third round of Europe and seven points clear in the league and still in both competitions, I think we’ve come a long way.
“This team I think has a big night in them, I really do.
“We need a special night. I think we need more than the Dundalk public behind us but if that’s all that turns up then so be it.
“I think it could be a good night for Irish football if we can show people in Europe what we’re about. People talk about how we improve our league but we need to improve people’s perception of it so if we do want to sign anybody from outside our league it’s easier with the more results we achieve in Europe. For me that’s a massive part of it and this can help our league if we can have a good night on Tuesday.
“I’ve watched the first leg back twice already and to be honest myself, Stephen O’Donnell, Ruaidhrí Higgins and John Gill sat down yesterday after we all watched it together and said I think that was our best European performance in a while albeit we gave away a few chances but we created some too. As I said, there was a bit more balance and we were a bit more like ourselves.”
While the odds are stacked heavily against Dundalk, Perth said he was not giving up on his side’s play-off ambitions.
“I love European football. It’s my favourite part of the season. I did a piece in the programme about when I went to watch Rosenborg against Bohs. That was the first time I wanted to become a coach.
“European football is special and in six seasons this is my 30th game to be involved in and I love it. It’s how you test yourself and ultimately it’s the pinnacle of football for Irish players and we don’t want it to end now and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
While Jordan Flores, Dean Jarvis and Stephen Folan are all set to miss the game, Perth said he did not know when Robbie Benson would be able to return following a rib injury sustained against Qarabag last month.
“Robbie is just pain management at the moment,” he said.
“It’s one of them where he has just too much pain to even train but he’s very close. He’s starting to cycle on bikes and different things but it could be a week, it could be four days and he could wake up in the morning and be fine.
“It’s one of them where we don’t know until he wakes up each day. You can’t strap it up or anything. You just have to take it on the chin.”
Meanwhile, Perth said he was happy to be through to the next round of the FAI Cup following a 1-0 win away to Cobh Ramblers on Saturday.
Speaking after the game, he said: “It’s a strange one because it was a really difficult pitch and there was a really difficult wind. We had a couple of scares as well and the changes to the team made it difficult for us and I have to be honest, I had to bring on reinforcements.
“That was no slight on the young lads, I thought they acquitted themselves really well, but we’ve one of the biggest games in the club’s history in 72 hours time so it was a difficult night for us. You seen in the last 25 minutes, there was another gear or two in us but we’ve got there, we’ve done our job and ultimately we’re very happy to be in the next round of the Cup.
“I remember winning the cup myself and we were 1-0 down to a non-league side with 20 minutes to go and then we went on to win the cup. You won’t remember this night.
“It was a difficult night for our players. Yes, it’s easy to say you should rise above it but you see games like this all over world football. They made it difficult for us and had that big gale in the first half so every clearance was right down our throats but I thought we did really well. Aaron McCarey was excellent again and I thought some of the players did well but it was a difficult pitch so they were never going to be outstanding there tonight. We have to see through that in terms of what it was,” he said.
Dundalk are also in action on Friday night when they welcome Finn Harps to Oriel Park for a game which will kick-off at 8pm in order to accommodate live TV coverage on eirSport.