Vinny Perth knows Celje will offer Dundalk a stern test

Slovenian champions are possibly the strongest unseeded side

Dundalk manager Vinnie Perth is confident ahead of his side’s Champions League qualifier against NK Celje. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Dundalk manager Vinnie Perth is confident ahead of his side’s Champions League qualifier against NK Celje. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

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Champions League first round qualifiers: NK Celje v Dundalk

Kick-off: 6pm, Wednesday. Venue: Szusza Ferenc Stadion, Újpest. On TV: Live on RTÉ2.

Dundalk boss Vinny Perth insists the humidity of the Hungarian summer is the only heat he will be feeling when his side go head to head with NK Celje in their Champions League qualifier at the Szusza Ferenc Stadion in Újpest on Wednesday night.

After taking just two points from a possible nine on offer since the SSE Airtricity League restarted at the end of last month, the Louth men 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 the game with the Slovenian champions, which is being played at a neutral venue due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Asked did he feel under pressure ahead of the game, Perth 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 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.

“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 we’ve the right 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 went on to win on penalties.

This time it’s a one leg winner-takes-all match but the Dundalk manager is in no doubt that Dušan Kosi?’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.

“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 pacey 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.

“We’ve come a long way as a group and we’re not finished yet,” said Perth.

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