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Saturday 14 December 2019

Goalden start in Slovakia sought by Lilies

Europa League: Slovan Bratislava v Dundalk (EirSport 1, KO 7.15)

Confident: Patrick Hoban feels Dundalk can end their European away goal drought tonight in Slovakia
Confident: Patrick Hoban feels Dundalk can end their European away goal drought tonight in Slovakia

The biggest puzzle for Dundalk on their trip to Bratislava is not the impenetrable language of the Slovaks.

No, their issue is trying to rediscover the scoring touch on foreign soil which made them such a force in the last number of years.

Dundalk, a side who scored away to the likes of Hajduk Split, BATE Borisov, Legia Warsaw and Zenit St Petersburg, have drawn a blank in their last three away games in Europe, and tonight in Slovakia they face a Slovan Bratislava side still smarting from their own Champions League loss but who still boast a strong home record in UEFA competition.

"We have to fix that," manager Vinny Perth says of that goal-free run away from home, in games played in Cyprus, Latvia and Azerbaijan.

Different

"I felt that for different reasons in the last couple of European games we weren't the real Dundalk.

"So this is an opportunity for us to be a bit braver than we have been and you will see a bit more of the normal Dundalk in this tie, that's our plan.

"Being away we will chase an away goal, we have always been like that as a group, through Stephen (Kenny) or the rest of the group, we have been believers in being on the front foot and going after teams, no matter who we played.

"For different reasons, we haven't been able to do that in the last couple of European ties but scoring an away goal would give us a big advantage so we are going after one."

One man who has cut a frustrated figure in Europe this season is main striker Patrick Hoban, scorer of their only goal in four Euro ties to date, that in the 1-1 draw at home to Qarabag.

"I thought Riga was the most frustrating game to play in as they set up to defend, even when they were at home.

There was no space in front of me and it was very hard to get involved in the game, though I tried not to get frustrated, as I knew the importance of the tie," says the Galway native.

"I felt I did well at home to Qarabag, but it was a completely different story over there. We couldn't press the ball at all, they pushed us back and picked holes in us.

"Qarabag were a team ranked higher than Inter Milan and Galatasaray, they are a high-calibre side used to being in the group stages. I know we didn't scored in the two games away to Riga and Qarabag but one team was ultra-defensive and Qarabag were different class, so it's not like we are not trying to score," Hoban added.

So can that barren spell end in Slovakia?

"I feel a goal can come tonight, I believe there are always goals in this team, no matter who we play," says Hoban, aware that locals were not impressed with a narrow win over Kosovan opposition in their last home tie in Europe.

"Slovan's record speaks for itself, but there is pressure on them, they are the home team tonight. If they get booed off after winning 2-1 in their last home game in Europe, that's very harsh, but that shows the demands here. If we score, that will add to the pressure on them."

One problem for Dundalk is predicting how their opponents play, their homework showing that Slovan, who had only one Slovak player in their most recent league game, capable of switching between three formations.

"One of their systems is very attacking and you might expect them to have a go at home," says Hoban.

"They will be a step up from Riga, they have their attacking threats, but they have their flaws too and hopefully we'll be ready to exploit their flaws as it would be great to come home with a good away result, make the home leg a bit easier."

Tonight's match is being played in the new Tehelne Pole stadium, built on the site of the dusty old venue which hosted Ireland's 2-2 draw with Slovakia in 2007.

Business

Also home to the national team, the ground only opened for business in January, and as the Dundalk camp made their way through the bowels of the 27,000 capacity stadium before last night's training session, the hosts still had the builders in, tonight's tie only the fourth game played here.

Dundalk, who cannot play the home leg of the tie with Slovan at Oriel Park as it fails to match UEFA standards for the third-round stage, can only look on in envy at a stadium built (mainly) with government money.

"These are stadia that people at our level aspire to," Perth admitted.

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