The humidity of the Hungarian summer is the only heat that Vinny Perth says he will be feeling when his side take to the field tonight for their Champions League qualifier with Slovenian champions NK Celje at the Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Újpest.
After taking just two points from a possible nine on offer since the SSE Airtricity League restarted at the end of last month, Dundalk find themselves eight points off league leaders Shamrock Rovers with just 10 games to go of the shortened domestic season.
That form, coupled with the focus of the club’s American owners PEAK6 on Europe, means that the 44-year-old’s future in the Oriel Park dug out has come into focus ahead of tonight’s game.
Despite admitting confidence was at a low ebb right now, Perth said he was not worried about his position and backed himself to turn things around – starting with progression in the Champions League this evening.
Asked was he under pressure, the Dubliner said: “No I don’t. Not at all. No, no, no.
“I mean the pressure is internal. I have my own pressure but I believe I can compete at this level and I believe I belong at this level. I believe in and around European and Champions League level is where I belong and I believe the players belong there.
“I’m very comfortable in my own skin. At this club, I’ve won five league titles. Very few other people in Dundalk’s history have won five league titles so I’m very comfortable in my own skin.”
Despite their poor form at home, Perth has backed his players to park that and raise their game for the big occasion against a Celje side who won the Slovan Prva Liga title for the first time last month.
“What we’ve got to do, and I think what we have done, is ignore the noise outside.
“You have to switch off from it. You have to let people gossip and say what they have to say but internally there’s no doubt we have to replace the word worry.
“A lot of people are worried about different things and there’s a lot of worry around the club but we have to get rid of the worry and become warriors. They’re two similar words with slight changes to them but I believe in this group in what they’ve done and what they’ve achieved on the pitch. I believe in myself. I’ve been here eight years. I’ve five league titles and Cup success and close to 40 games in Europe. I believe we’ve the right people.
“The one thing I am is a warrior as well. When I look back to even 2017 as an example, we lost to Cork and went 18 points behind them. Since then we’ve won almost every domestic trophy in the two years that followed. We lost one FAI Cup and one League Cup but other than that we’ve won every domestic trophy.”
Perth said he was aware that it was that recent success which brought the spotlight on him so intensely.
“Yeah and I welcome that because if I was at a club that was winning a game, drawing a game and losing a game then I wouldn’t have the same questions so I welcome that because it tells me that I’m operating at the highest level.
“It tells me that I’m in the right position and it tells me that I’m working at the right club. I welcome it but I do believe in this group.
“They’re just an amazing group of people. I do believe they have what it takes and I believe in myself. I’m comfortable in my own skin that we can achieve our goals this year. I absolutely believe this.”
At this stage last season there were similar question marks around Perth’s future ahead of their Champions League clash with Riga – a tie they ultimately advanced from on penalties after scoreless draws at home and away.
This time it’s a one leg winner-takes-all match but the Dundalk manager is in no doubt that Dušan Kosič’s side will offer a sterner test than that of the Latvians 12 months ago.
“They’re a lot better than Riga, of that there’s no doubt,” he said.
“They play a similar way with two number sixes generally but they’re a lot better than Riga.
“Slovenian sides, generally Maribor and Olimpija, are normally seeded but it’s just that Celje have won a league against the run of it. They won the league with less than 50 per cent possession so they’re very much a pacy team who like to counter attack but there’s no doubt that the Slovenian champions should be seeded but they’re not. We’ve been unlucky in that sense but we’re still the seeded team and we’ve got to go there with confidence and experience and I think that’s the key.”
While Perth was full of praise for the attacking talents of Celje’s front four of Dario Vizinger, Ivan Bozic, Luka Kerin and Mitja Lotric, he feels Dundalk are every bit as dangerous up front.
“They are very much a speedy and powerful team in their front four but we do believe there is areas where we can exploit them and ultimately that’s what we’ll be trying to do.
“There’s goals in this team but we’ve just got to be a little bit better defensively.
“Stefan Colovic, Daniel Kelly, Nathan Oduwa, Michael Duffy or Patrick McEleney, there’s magic in them and we also have the greatest scorer in Dundalk’s history in Patrick Hoban and we don’t need to look too far back to see what David McMillan has done in Europe as well so there is inspirational people in our team and we have to look to them to bring the magic to it on Wednesday.
“Despite recent results there have been huge positives as well and our front four are at the level they need to be but it’s what is behind them that needs to get up another level but I’ve no doubt we can do that. The players are good enough and we’re ready for it.
“You’d think Dundalk have been this amazing team for the last seven or eight years. We have been but there has been spells where it hasn’t been brilliant and spells where we’ve had to go to the well and win games.
“There was an Athlone game in 2014 where Darren Meenan fell over in the 93rd minute and Richie Towell scored a penalty. Now if that happens we’d be criticised from pillar to post and rightly so because we’re at the highest level but it just shows we’re on a good path way, we’re in a good place and we’ve come a long way as a group and we’re not finished yet,” said Perth.