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Seasoned Dundalk planning to use Celje tie to silence crisis talk

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BELIEF: Dundalk defender Seán Gannon is not worried

BELIEF: Dundalk defender Seán Gannon is not worried

SPORTSFILE

BELIEF: Dundalk defender Seán Gannon is not worried

There were bomb scares and riot police on duty the last time Dundalk played a European tie in a neutral venue, as the Dutch city of Harlem were the unfortunate hosts of the Troubles-tainted clash between the Lilywhites and Linfield in 1979.

Things will be a lot calmer in Budapest this evening when the Co Louth club play Slovenian side NK Celje, Dundalk away from home but playing in the neutral venue of Hungary due to Covid-19 restructions which denied the Slovenians home advantage.

And Dundalk defender Seán Gannon believes that Vinny Perth's outfit can use the hushed setting of an empty Ferenc Szusza stadium to drown out the noise from home which paints the league champions as a club in crisis.

Three league games without a win since the league resumed last month has seen Dundalk cast adrift in the title race, making retention of that title very unlikely, but Gannon insists there is no crisis at Oriel Park and that his side can repeat some of their great away days on the European stage to progress.

"People outside will say this is a real challenge for us but for us, we have worked hard to get here," Gannon says.

Challenge

"It is a challenge to go away from home and win but we have shown before we can do that, we have had to go to places like Iceland to get a result and we got through, we proved we can travel and do well.

"Every great team has a couple of results and performances that don't go their way at some stage.

"We just need to put right the things that went wrong over the last few games. There's no major panic, we are committed to working hard and putting it right. We have a big game in Europe to look forward to, that's been our focus.

"There was no big meeting or clear-the-air talks.

"We're not hoping for Europe to lift our form because there is no major issue, a few things went against us but that's life, that's football.

"We have fantastic players in a fantastic group and we believe we can win the game."

Celje are in the Champions League for the first time in their history and their European experience is pretty shallow: only once have they managed to win through a round in UEFA competition and in their last three campaigns, between 2012 and 2015, they've failed to get past the first hurdle.

The Slovenian side would still see themselves as favourites for this tie, though preparations were not smooth, as an outbreak of Covid-19 in their league meant that the planned start of the new season last weekend could not go ahead, and they come into the Dundalk tie with just one friendly under their belts.

"We have studied Celje and they are a good European team," added Gannon.

"No matter who you get in the Champions League you have a tough tie and you need to be at your best to beat them, they are champions of their league, a good league.

Hurt

"But we go there looking to win the game, we're looking at how we can hurt them. We pay them a certain amount of respect but we're looking to win it."

The nature of this pandemic-scarred season is that the issue, and a place in the second qualifying round, will be settled over one evening, no second chance, no home leg, an unsual occurence for a Dundalk side used to planning for a second leg to complete their task.

"It's a one-off playoff and it's a matter of who is best on the day, results in the league went against us but we go into this game confident that we can win it," added Ringsend native Gannon.

"We always approached European games with a desire to win, we have a good record in Europe and the staff have put in a huge amount of work, in the short time between the draw being made and us playing them, to have us ready, and we are well-prepared.

"They are a good side, so we need to take confidence into the tie, training has been good and we're ready."

Manager Perth expect to be without John Mountney due to injury but Andy Boyle, rested for last week's league game as a precaution, comes back into the fold.

Dundalk, who have failed to score in their last four European games away from home, have been used to games in the domestic league with no fans present, tonight more of the same.

"It works both ways," when asked if the lack of a crowd is a help or a hindrance.

"We haven't played in an empty stadium in Europe before so we don't know if it will be an advantage or not.

"The disadvantage is that we have a great travelling support, no matter where we go in Europe we get plenty of Dundalk fans there to cheer us on, so it's a shame they can't be there.

"But nothing in life is normal right now so we make do with the situation and get on with it, it's the same for both teams and it's up to us to create our own atmosphere, our own tempo on the night."

The winners of this one-off tie will be at home to either Molde (Norway) or KuPS (Finland) in the second round.