“Go and Compete!”: Foster
Dundalk manager Ian Foster has insisted that his side are not in Sofia to “make up the numbers”. The 33-year-old was speaking at a press conference in the Youth Academy building at Georgi Asparuhov Stadium ahead of the Lilywhites’ UEFA Europa League second qualifying round first leg against Bulgarian giants Levski Sofia on Thursday night (kick-off 8.45pm local time/6.45pm Irish time). Dundalk arrived at Sofia airport on Tuesday afternoon and were greeted by a row of photographers and TV cameras, and Foster says that while “probably the only advantage we have coming here is fitness”, he is determined to achieve a positive result.
“It’s going to be difficult, we’re aware of that,” Foster told Bulgarian press when asked what he thought his side’s chances were. “We know how strong they are, but we’re not here to make up the numbers, we’re here to compete. A positive result for us would be a draw or to get an away goal – we would look on that as a huge positive. We just want to go back to Ireland with a positive result. We’ve had help from Premier League clubs in England. They have a big scouting network, so they have been able to help us with Levski. We know they quality all over the pitch, I don’t like to pick out individuals, but from what we’ve seen, they play a 4-2-3-1, and the 3 and the 1 are very good on the ball and technically excellent and always a threat going forward, so that’s something that we’ll have to be very wary of.
“I got the reports on them from their pre-season games over in Austria,” he added. “I know pretty much how they line up, and personnel wise we have got a fair idea of how they’ll start tomorrow. We’ve done as much as we possibly could without the opportunity to see them. Fitness is probably the only advantage we have coming here, obviously Levski are in the middle of their pre-season, so we will speak about that. Obviously, we will try to play at a high tempo and see if they can match us for 90 minutes. I’m sure they can, but it is a slim advantage that we’re halfway through our season.” The former Kidderminster Harriers striker also stated his team would not be changing their formation from their usual 4-3-3 setup.
Foster put his squad through a one-hour session, in sweltering heat, on Wednesday evening at the near 30,000-seater Georgi Asparuhov Stadium, although the weather began to cool towards the end of the session just after 7pm local time. “To be honest, since Sunday (against Shamrock Rovers) we haven’t done a great deal,” Foster said before training. “Three games in six days was tough for us but we’ve got plenty of rest now. Obviously, we’re training this evening in preparation for tomorrow, and we’ll be a lot fresher than we were at the weekend. We’ve brought the weather with us today, so hopefully it will rain tomorrow too. But we’ll prepare properly, eat the right foods, drink as much fluids as we can and be ready in that sense. The weather is a factor but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The boss refused to comment on recent FAI and club statements and said that he would deal with the matter on his return to Ireland. “I haven’t had a chance to look at it, to be perfectly honest,” he said. “I’m concentrating on the Sofia game and I’ll deal with that when we get back.” For the game, Foster remains without captain Liam Burns and No1 goalkeeper Peter Cherrie, but otherwise reported a clean bill of health with Garry Breen and Fahrudin Kuduzovic returning from suspension and new signing Steven Lennon available for selection. The squad have enjoyed a relaxing stay at their hotel base, where the Republic of Ireland stayed for last year’s FIFA World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, and we will have further news from the camp on Thursday afternoon.