Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth believes it is important to score when his side face Slovan Bratislava on Wednesday in their Europa League third qualifying round first leg tie at the Tehelné pole stadium (kick-off 7.15pm, live on eirSport).
In four European matches to date against Riga FC and Qarabag, the Lilywhites have managed just a single goal through top scorer Patrick Hoban. They also failed to score in their last two matches of last year when they drew 0-0 with AEK Larnaca before losing 4-0 in the second leg in Cyprus.
With this tie seeing the Lilywhites play the second leg on home soil at Tallaght Stadium, Perth believes it will suit his side to go away first and he feels scoring against Jan Kozak’s side will be crucial if they are to make the play-off round.
“Away goals are huge in Europe,” he said.
“The three chances we had the other night, if one of them goes in it’s massive. We’re not going over to shut up shop but at the same time we have to be respectful of their front line.”
Asked what would realistically be a good result in Bratislava, Perth said: “I think scoring.
“No matter what once you score I think it’s massive. You can lose the game but if you score it’s a massive advantage.”
The 43-year-old said playing away from home in the first leg on this occasion would suit his side.
“It’s much better definitely. I don’t think we would have lost 3-0 in Qarabag if we had a home tie in the second one.
“It definitely suits us that way that we know what we have to do in the second tie. It works both ways because we’ve had teams come over and shut up shop here but it’s definitely an advantage, albeit it’s difficult after coming home from such a long trip to have to travel again but we’re prepared for that.”
Perth also said playing the second leg in Tallaght Stadium, where some of the side’s best European results have been recorded, would be a help.
“I think it suits us,” he said of the Dublin 24 venue.
“I think Oriel can be somewhere where European teams have found it okay to shut up shop if they have to but I think in Tallaght they couldn’t do that.
“Let’s not fool ourselves, it’s a wonderful venue and it’s the best in this country for European ties other than the Aviva so it’s the right venue but it’s just a pity it’s not a bit closer to home. I’d rather if the game was in Dundalk but rules are rules.”
Despite the disappointment of last week’s Champions League exit away to Qarabag, Perth said the result was firmly behind them and the side were now focused on making it to the Europa League play-off stage.
“We moved on very quickly after the game,” he said.
“We had a brief chat after the game and everything is focused on the Europa League now. It’s half-time in Europe and we would have prepared the players for that. Not that we might lose but certainly to say that when we do go out of the Champions League – because it’s unrealistic for an Irish team team to go all the way – we have to be prepared for what’s next.
“We can’t be too down if we lose to the likes of a Qarabag or APOEL. We’ve prepared them for this and we’re in a good place.
“Our challenge is to be in the play-off for the Europa League regularly. That’s what I think is achievable over the next couple of years for Irish clubs and then the group stages comes after that.
“I don’t think we’re ready to be regularly in the group stages of the Europa League. I think the standard is just too high. I think Qarabag are on the next level where they are competing for group stages. Their aim is probably the Champions League and if not the Europa League but they’re probably about two stages ahead of where we want to get to. We want to be in the play-offs at a minimum over the next year or two and then build from there. They’re heady heights but that’s what we want to achieve.”
Perth admitted that his side would need at least one “big night” if they were to repeat their run to the group stages from three years ago.
“The noise you listen from from the outside is interesting. I was sitting there at BATE away in 2016 and we were better beaten in that game than we were the other night but it was only 1-0.
“People look back with rose tinted glasses but we were battered in BATE so you do need one big night to go your way and if you look at the draw we could get if we get through this round, it’s going to take one big special night to go your way and everything to go your way to get back into the group stages but we’ll keep knocking on that door and we’re not far off it.
“Go back to 2016, we scraped through against FH and we were well beaten by BATE but we had a big moment and a big night in Tallaght and it’s one that we’ll never forget.
“We need one of them whether it’s this year or next year to catapult us into the next stage but we’re dreaming about the group stages still.
“We’re still in this competition. We’re four games of football and two ties away from Europa League football. If we don’t get there or get at least a play-off we will be disappointed,” he said.
Reacting to the loss against Qarabag, Perth said he believes missed chances at Oriel Park were the key to the outcome of the tie overall.
“We should have went away with something to hold onto but we didn’t and the fact we didn’t made it more difficult for us.
“Not having something going away to hold onto was probably the killer because I felt like we lost the tie here at home by not taking a lead over.
“They were better than us but we wanted to stay in the game. Over the two games bar the last 15 minutes we were in it against a really serious outfit. We felt there was a big moment for somebody. It could have been Pat Hoban’s one or it could have been someone else. I think had we taken Pat’s chance, which he was really unlucky with, or one or two other half chances which came our way I think the tie would have swung completely because they would have taken it as a real shock.
“We had a 10 minute spell before they got the second where I felt we were growing into it and opening up but as soon as we opened up we got punished and that’s what happens.”
Despite that defeat, Perth believes it will stand to his side in Bratislava.
“I think it was the best preparation we could have had because while it’s not a lot easier, it’s certainly an easier tie.
“We’re not used to not having the ball and we’ve had to work on different systems and different shapes so I think it was the best prep we could have had.
“Slovan are a good side. When they have the ball they go into a back three and their full backs get very advanced.
“Their centre forward is excellent, as is their wingers. They’ve a lot of number 10s who can all play different positions. I’m not sure what their team is going to be and that’s not the norm really. They’ve chopped and changed every time they’ve played so far with four or five changes every single time. It’s similar to ourselves probably because I’m not sure they’d be able to guess our team either.
“They’re just a good side but we’d expect that because it’s the third qualifying round of the Europa League and you’d expect a good side in the champions route anyway.”
While Dundalk are once again the seeded side, Perth said the only pressure on his side this time was internal.
“This is very much a 50/50 game,” he said.
“When you’re in the third or fourth round of Europe you’re in bonus territory for Irish clubs. We do aspire to be in and around that over the next few years. There’s internal pressures but other than that there is nothing major.”
Robbie Benson is set to miss the trip to Slovakia with the rib injury sustained in the first leg against Qarabag at Oriel Park and Perth said the loss of him and Jordan Flores, was a real blow for Europe.
“We think Jordan is a massive loss for Europe. His ability to keep the ball and pass it was a big loss just before Europe started.
“You’re deemed to be making excuses but there’s no doubt that central midfield, the injuries that we’ve had there has really hamstrung us this year. We’ve not been as good as we have before but ironically I think our defence is better than it ever has been.
“It’s just the way it goes, it’s swings and roundabouts. It’s disappointing that we haven’t fired in there because of the injuries and the fact that people aren’t just at their peak fitness but it’s a first world problem because we’re seven points clear in the league and we’re in the third qualifying round of the Europa League so we have to deal with it.”
When they return from Bratislava, Dundalk will face a trip to St Colman’s Park on Saturday night to face Cobh Ramblers in the FAI Cup (kick-off 7pm). The return leg against Slovan Bratislava will take place at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday next August 13th (kick-off 8pm).