Vinny Perth has already helped mastermind one victory over Latvian opposition in Europe – now he is hoping to do the same again when his side meet Riga FC in the Champions League qualifiers next month.
The Dundalk FC head coach was an opposition analyst for his mentor Stephen Kenny during the current Republic of Ireland U-21 manager’s reign as Derry City boss 10 years ago.
On that occasion he visited Riga FC’s Skonto Stadium to scout a Skonto Riga side who the Candystripes would go on to beat 2-1. A Tam McManus header from the late Mark Farren’s cross ensured a 1-1 draw away from home before Kevin Derry’s strike in the return leg in the Brandywell ensured a meeting with CSKA Sofia in the next round.
Perth’s assistant Ruaidhrí Higgins was part of that Derry team but two of their current players – Sean Hoare and Jamie McGrath – had a more bitter experience against Latvian opposition having lost their Europa League qualifier 4-1 to Skonto Riga four years ago.
FC Riga are only in existence for the last five years but won the double last year after a first foray into Europe that saw them only bow out of the Europa League qualifiers having lost a penalty shoot-out 5-3 to CSKA Sofia following a 1-1 draw on aggregate.
Perth believes that a lack of history is one of the only reasons their co-efficient isn’t higher.
“We can dismiss the likes of Latvian football and different football at different stages, as Irish people do, but they’ll be a very strong side,” he said.
“People will say we’re favourites but I don’t think there’s a favourite in the tie. I think it’s two strong sides. They have eight or nine Latvian internationals in their squad. We think there is a Serbian international as well and a Moldovan who played against Ireland recently so they’ll be a very strong side. We’ve got our work cut out.
“I would’ve seen Skonto Riga a few years back when I was working for Derry and now a couple of the top sides have got together. They seem to have built a strong side and they’re top of their own domestic league again so they’re in good form.
“To be honest the draw could have been worse when you look at the Polish side playing BATE Borisov but they’ll be thinking the same as well because they’ve managed to avoid the likes of BATE also. I’d say both teams will be reasonably happy with the draw.
“As I said, I scouted Skonto Riga before and seen them against Pat’s a few years ago as well. They play at the same stadium and I’ve been over there so we’d have some insight into them but because they’re such a new club it’s a difficult tie to judge and we’ve a lot more homework to do than normal.”
Perth said Dundalk would travel to see Mihails Koņevs’ side in action on Friday when they host third placed Spartaks Jurmala.
Asked how often he’d look to watch a side who have four league games between now and the first leg in Oriel Park next month, Perth said: “It depends on fixtures.
“The week before we’ve got three games in the week against Shamrock Rovers, Waterford and Derry and that will take precedence that week for me but we’ll go over this Friday because we’ve no idea if any of their games will be called off because of Europe.
“We’ll cover ourselves and go over and watch them but we’ll definitely see them at least twice, if not a third time, live between now and the game.”
Riga currently sit top of the Latvian Higher League ahead of RFS on goal difference with 31 points from 15 games played. Perth said there were positives and negatives in facing a side in the middle of their season, who had the opportunity to move three points clear at the top if they won their game in hand.
“There are pros and cons to it in that we’ll understand their set pieces and their style of play whereas we might not have if they were out of season.
“At the same time they’re obviously up and running and will have no fitness worries of the nature you’d have in pre-season. I suppose the advantage of Irish football being in the summer is that we’re able to compete with them so I don’t see fitness for either side being an issue.
“Keeping a clean sheet in the first game will be key and we’d fancy ourselves to score goals at home or away no matter who we face.”
Win or lose Dundalk will have a second qualifying round tie in either the Champions League or Europa League to prepare for after Riga. The draw for it takes place at 11am on Wednesday but Perth, who brings his side on a pre-season training camp to Spain tomorrow morning, said he would not be paying too much attention to it.
“You do tune into the draw out of interest but it would be foolish to look beyond that,” he said.
“Depending on how the first leg goes we can decide whether we want to go and watch them whoever the opposition is but we’ve plenty of time to worry about that. We have three massive league games before we start in Europe so we can’t jump too far ahead.”
The 42-year-old also said he was hopeful that the Cork City game at Oriel Park, scheduled for two days after the second leg against Riga, could also be postponed given his side will be in action again in Europe the following week no matter what.
“It depends on Cork’s fixtures and our fixtures,” he said when the prospect of calling the game off was put to him.
“Cork will obviously play on a Thursday night so if we’re playing on a Tuesday night then the game has to go but if we’re not playing until the Wednesday we can assess whether to play it on a Sunday evening but we’ll see how that goes.
“We expect to be on a flight on the Monday morning anyway so it’s difficult to see that game going ahead but we’ll assess it in time and see how the fixtures are looking,” said Perth.