Dundalk's identity crisis would be solved by away goal in Europe - Perth
Will the real Dundalk stand up?
That's the hope, at least, for their manager Vinny Perth in Slovakia tonight as the reigning League of Ireland champions face up to their latest foreign test - a Europa League battle with Slovan Bratislava.
Extensive homework by Dundalk's backroom team, and general bar-room talk from the travelling support in Bratislava this week, both lead to the same conclusion, It suggested Slovan will be a bigger test than the Riga FC side which Dundalk overcame in the first round qualifying of the Champions League but will be a step down from the level of Qarabag, who outclassed Dundalk last week in Baku.
Dundalk's problem is that they need to deliver more than they have done in Europe this season. Disappointingly, they have scored just one goal in four European ties and have gone three successive away games in UEFA competition, going back to last season, without a goal.
The European success under Stephen Kenny was built on away goals with Dundalk capable of scoring in places like Holland, Israel, Poland, Belarus, Norway and Croatia.
There's a lot riding on this tie, a prize of €300,000 for the winners and a play-off round tie with the losers of the Ajax-PAOK Champions League game.
Key players like Michael Duffy and Patrick McEleney have yet to reach the heights in Europe and Perth admitted that, while Qarabag were a tough nut to crack, his side have been playing within themselves instead of expressing themselves.
"We have to fix that," he says of the goalless run away from home.
"You play against some top, top sides and it was difficult against that Riga side, we should have scored, we created chances to score in both ties, so that's a positive.
"There is a big goal, a big moment in people, and that's the challenge tonight. 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," added Perth.
Pat Hoban has delivered the only goal in Europe this season and he admits it has been frustrating.
"I know we didn't score in the two games away to Riga and Qarabag but one team were ultra-defensive and Qarabag were different class so it's not like we are not trying to score," Hoban said.
"I feel a goal can come tonight, I believe there are always goals in this team no matter who we play."
Slovan have played only a handful of matches at the new Telehne Pole stadium, built on the site of the crumbling old ground which hosted Ireland's 2-2 draw with Slovakia in 2007, and the builders and painters were still on site as Dundalk had their training session at the 27,000-capacity ground last night.
Dundalk are aware that Slovan were booed off by their 7,000-strong support after a narrow win over Kosovar opposition in their last home tie in Europe, Slovan having sacked their coach for a Champions League exit before that. "Being booed off is harsh but that shows the demands here, and if we score that will add to the pressure on them," says Hoban.