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'We prepared for this moment. It hurts a little but you take it on the chin'

Dundalk were knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by Azerbaijani champions Qarabag last night.

Johnny Ward reports from Baku

VINNY PERTH WAS looking forward to Europa League combat next week against Slovan Bratislava despite the humbling experience of a 3-0 hammering by Qarabag in the second qualifying round of the Champions League. 

The Irish champions bowed out 4-1 on aggregate after being outplayed in the Azeri heat by a superb Qarabag side.

Vinny Perth dejected Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth dejected at the final whistle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Perth suffered the biggest hiding since he replaced Stephen Kenny at the Dundalk helm – and was not making excuses afterwards.

The Dubliner is looking forward to a trip to Slovakia and said: “I said it was one of the best sides we’ve faced and we’ve seen that; I felt we possibly left something behind in the first game.

“It was really interesting: we just had a discussion there and it is half-time in our European adventure. That’s where we want to get to; we are obviously off that but we believe we can go to the next stage. 

We prepared for this moment as staff and it hurts a little but you take it on the chin; you are talking about opposition like Qarabag, that sort of level.

“In terms of European football, we are not done yet. After the management spoke, senior players see this as half-time in the European adventure. Disappointed obviously but we have gone up more than one level there.” 

The concession of a second goal, Ailton heading home after a Michael Duffy mistake, really killed Dundalk’s chance.

John Mountney, Patrick McEleney and Sean Hoare dejected John Mountney, Patrick McEleney and Sean Hoare after Wednesday night's game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Pat Hoban’s chance goes in, who knows what happens? That’s all we could hope for – a chance of winning the tie in the second half. We were hanging in to a point but we started to get control a little more, the space opened up. We felt there was a big chance on the way.

“We didn’t get enough set-pieces tonight, we felt we were a threat from them. We opened up a bit and they punished us.” 

Whilst unwilling to claw at excuses, Perth said his team was “short in one or two areas and didn’t deserve to win the tie,” while also acknowleding that fatigue was a factor in the second half.

Asked would it be hard to lift his team for Bratislava in third round of Europa League qualification, he said: “Not at all. We prepared hard for this. We want to be there or thereabouts in European football.

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“There is one big tie in these players. They will be training tomorrow morning and there will be videos of the opposition. This is what we aspire to: being in these sort of moments.

Pat Hoban with Vinny Perth Pat Hoban and Vinny Perth at the Dalga Arena in Baku.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing getting into the Champions League? Yes, but our goal in the next few years is the Europa League. We are one tie away from a playoff. We are getting there; we are moving.

“It is against a backdrop of results around Europe for these lower-ranked nations getting better too. That’s the challenge we have. We have to win this tie this week.”

Asked were there any positives, Perth said: “Daniel Cleary was outstanding, Jamie McGrath did a lot of good stuff. They are young players coming through and generally for the lads that’s brilliant preparation for next week – which I think will be easier. I think we will be there or thereabouts next week.” 

Daniel Kelly, who came on late in the second half, was hugely impressed by the Azeris. “I expect them to make the group stages of the Champions League,” he admitted.

Kelly was not the only Dundalk player to cite the dead heat at pitch level, with their jerseys drenched in sweat afterwards as if coming out of a pool of water.

The Dubliner added: “It was a great experience, pity about the result. I thought we got into the game but there was going to be a stage where we had to come out and they picked us off. 

“It is a result we have to take. We go to Slovakia on Monday morning and we are still in with a chance.

“There is being optimistic and realistic. We are still in with a shout of the Europa League group stages.”

As for his own performance, he said: “The first couple of minutes, it was so hot, you are blowing straight away. It will stand to me in future games.”

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Johnny Ward

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