NK Celje 3 Dundalk 0
Dundalk manager Vinny Perth said the blame lay at his door after his team's Champions League defeat to NK Celje at the Ferenc Szusza Stadion in Újpest, but insisted he is not concerned for his job.
The SSE Airtricity League champions were unable to reverse their recent domestic form for the big occasion as Dario Kosic’s side punished them for basic defensive errors at the end of either half to claim an historic victory at this level, having only won their first Slovan Prva Liga title last month.
Coming off the back of a run of just two points from the opening nine on offer in the league, the result in Hungary will raise further question marks over the future of a side who have dominated Irish football for most of the past decade. Perth is refusing to write them off however.
“I do believe in that group of players and I believe that at the very minimum they can get back in and qualify for Europe again. They still have a European campaign. It’s not over.
“They must learn from that but they will. I don’t fear for that group in that sense. We’ve got good players at Dundalk and an amazing squad with amazing people but they just need to be backed at the moment and I think they’ll be great again.”
Asked about his future, the 44-year-old said: “It’s a fair question. I ultimately respect that I’m at a club that is trying to do things. We’ve rolled the dice. It’s not easy but if we just wanted to be like most teams and dominate domestically and do okay in Europe by winning a round and losing a round then I think that could have been done but we rolled the dice and we built a European squad or the beginnings of a European squad.
“That has cost us problems with Covid-19 but there’s no doubt that that falls at my door and ultimately I’m big and ugly enough to accept it but what will be, will be. I’ll see what our owners felt about tonight and we’ll go from there but I’m very relaxed about it.
“It certainly wasn’t a 3-0 defeat. I think if Pat (Hoban) scores we’d go on and win the game but that’s football. The football gods aren’t shining on the town of Dundalk at the moment but I thought the players were immense.
“I can look in the mirror and say I’ve done everything and left everything on the pitch myself personally. I can’t do much more with that group than what I’ve done and ultimately that’s where it is.”
Dundalk had started brightly and could well have been ahead on 18 minutes when Stefan Colovic's corner was met by Brian Gartland who flashed a header just over. Michael Duffy also tested Matjaž Rozman twice after that before the killer blow came at the other end on 43 minutes.
Chris Shields broke up possession in midfield with the loose ball allowing Kerin to nip in behind Gartland, who had tried to nudge him off the ball. The 21-year-old was not to be denied, however, as he scrambled a leg to the ball on the ground to slot past Gary Rogers despite him getting a foot to it.
Celje almost doubled their advantage within 70 seconds of the restart when Ivan Božic’s cross came off Gartland only for Rogers to claw it away but it was largely one way traffic after that with the Louth men having two big chances within a minute of each other just before the hour mark.
Jordan Flores had an effort tipped over before Duffy pulled a shot agonisingly across the face of goal.
Darragh Leahy also went close before Perth threw caution to the wind with the introduction of the attacking trio of Sean Murray, Nathan Oduwa and David McMillan but if anything it unsettled his side. Their best chance of an equaliser came six minutes from the end when Duffy's free kick deflected off the wall into the path of Patrick Hoban, whose header came back off the upright.
Any hope of a comeback was ended on 88 minutes though when Sean Hoare coughed up possession under little or no pressure to Lotric who combined with Vizinger on the break for the latter to slot to an almost empty net.
There would be further salt in the wounds in the fifth minute of stoppage time when substitute Dangubic turned in at the second attempt after Rogers had parried a free kick.
On what was Dundalk’s 75th European appearance, this must surely go down as one of their disappointing nights.
NK Celje: Rozman; Zaletel, Calušic, Marandici; Štravs, Vrbanec (Pungaršek 86); Kerin, Lotric, Božic (Novak 82); Vizinger (Dangubic 93). Subs not used: Jurhar, Stojinovic, Brecl, Štraus.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland (Oduwa 76), Hoare, Leahy; Shields (McMillan 82), Flores (Murray 69); Colovic, Patrick McEleney, Duffy; Hoban. Subs not used: McCarey, Mountney, Cleary, Kelly.
Referee: Vitor Fernandes Ferreira (Portugal)