Vinny Perth might be taking charge of his first Champions League match when Dundalk take on Riga FC at Oriel Park tonight but the experience built up in recent years means he won’t be taking the Latvians lightly.
As the seeded team, the Lilywhites will be favourites to advance to a second qualifying round tie against either FK Partizani of Albania or Qarabag of Azerbaijan laster this month.
However, having watched Mihails Koņevs’ side extensively since they were paired together last month, Perth says the Virsliga champions should not be underestimated.
“We’ve seen them live four times at this stage,” said the Dundalk head coach.
“They’re a big, physically strong team but they’re technically very good as well. Some of their attacking play is really strong. That’s probably the strongest part of their team, their attacking front four.
“They’ve 12 internationals so they’re obviously a very experienced team and they’ve strengthened the squad over the last four weeks after the draw was made so I presume they see an opportunity to progress.”
While many fans and pundits expect Dundalk to see off the challenge of Riga, who only made their European debut 12 months ago when they lost to CSKA Sofia on penalties, Perth says within the camp the players are not taking anything for granted.
“I don’t see that as a concern internally but it’s definitely a concern externally where people think Latvian football is not as strong as Irish football.
“The players respect them. They’re a good side and there’s definitely a level of respect there.”
While Dundalk will be hoping to take a lead to Skonto Stadium for next Wednesday’s second leg, Perth said he wouldn’t panic if they failed to do so.
“We’ve been here before where we haven’t had leads. Obviously at home we will try and get a lead.
“Clean sheets, as much as possible, are very important in Europe and we’ve always fancied ourselves to score goals. Leading is not the be-all and end-all.”
The 42-year-old, who stepped up into the head coach role following Stephen Kenny’s departure last November, said he was not worried about taking on the responsibility of managing in Europe.
“I would feel pressure if this was my first game but it’s my 25th.
“I feel I brought a lot to the table over the last six or seven years so that in my eyes takes a little bit of pressure away because I’ve achieved quite a lot in Europe as a coach.”
Perth also feels his side have learned lessons from last year’s disappointing Europa League defeat away to AEK Larnaca when they lost 4-0 in the second leg.
“We lost heavily on the night but I said it at the time that I wouldn’t let 45 minutes of football cloud any of our judgement in terms of what we’ve done.
“We got punished for big mistakes and people out of form over 45 minutes. We paid the penalty for it but we definitely have learnt from that. We’ve spoken about it internally and we’ve moved on from it.
“This now is an opportunity to put things right,” said Perth.
Meanwhile, club captain Brian Gartland – who yesterday signed a contract extension with the club until the end of 2020 – expects a tight affair in the first leg.
“They’ll be coming over here to keep things tight and to bring it back home. I think the signings they’ve had in the last few weeks, (Roman) Debelko and a couple of other lads, are quality signings and that shows their ambition. They’re looking at this tie and thinking we’ve a chance of getting through here. Nothing can be taken for granted and you really have to be at it to get through,” he said.
Jordan Flores is the only absentee for Dundalk with a hip flexor injury.