St. Patrick's Athletic boss Liam Buckley doesn't believe his side's inconsistent form in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division will have any bearing on their Europa League first qualifying round tie with Jeunesse Esch.
The Saints host the Luxembourg outfit in the first-leg on Tuesday night on the back of three consecutive defeats, during which they conceded nine goals and scored just the once. Pat's have won eight and lost seven of their 17 league games to date, leaving them sixth in the table – 17 points adrift of table-topping Dundalk.
Buckley admits that the turnover of players at Richmond Park in the off-season has had an affect as it has taken new signings time to gel – six of the starting XI from the first-leg of last season's Europa League defeat to Skonto Riga have since left the club. The Saints boss is keenly aware of the need to start stringing decent results together.
“It helps if you have a bit of consistency,” Buckley told Extratime.ie after Pat's' pre-match press conference. “We have changed our [squad] around quite a bit this year, bearing in mind our results, but we have what we have. We've lost a few from last year, it's taken a little bit of time for these guys to bed into the way we want to play.
“We've done indifferently this season, we've had some good games and some average games, so that has us where we are. So hopefully we can get a little bit of consistency in the second half of the season. We need to start that off tomorrow [against Esch].”
However, Buckley thinks playing in a different competition will give his players fresh impetus and took positives from a tight game against Premier Division champions Dundalk in Oriel Park on Friday night, a game Pat's lost 2-0. Incidentally, the Lilywhites defeated Esch 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa League two seasons ago.
“It doesn't help confidence from that end,” replied Buckley when asked by Extratime.ie whether his side's current form was a concern. “That said, it's a separate issue. It's a different competition, it's like when you're playing in the cup and you're playing in the league. It [requires] a fresh head, I want them all coming in with a fresh head tomorrow evening and see can we get through the tie.
“Listen, teams lose two and three games, it's just unfortunate from our end of it,” Buckley continued. “In fairness, Dundalk played well the other night. There wasn't a lot in it for 75 minutes, they got a couple of late goals. That said, from our end of it, we do need to knuckle down and get our work done and we've got to pick ourselves up. The only ones who can change results are us.”
Buckley reported no injuries from the Dundalk game. However, he did say that Conor O'Malley would be ruled out of Tuesday night's clash with a thigh strain, with the goalkeeper set to be fit for the second leg. Jack Bayly also looks set to miss out with a hamstring strain.
During the press conference, Buckley said of top goalscorer Christy Fagan, “He's fit to play. We're still working on his fitness as such, he's been out for quite a bit to a couple of different injuries. This one was a knock on his foot. It's still a bit sore, but he seems to be over it as such so he comes back into the picture for tomorrow.”
Esch are still in their pre-season and have overhauled their squad somewhat also, with eight players coming in and nine going out, including their top scorer from last season, Mormar N'Diaye who netted 24 goals. This new look Esch side played two behind closed doors friendlies last week, losing 2-0 and 1-0, and Buckley is happy with what opposition analyst Dave Campbell has been able to find out.
“We've got quite a bit of information on them. They're out of season at the moment, their season finished at the backend of May,” Buckley told Extratime.ie. “They've changed quite a few of their squad around, they've probably a half-dozen new players into their group, not unlike ourselves to be honest. They finished fourth last season.
“Dundalk played them a couple of years ago and won 2-0 and 3-1. Now obviously, that's not going to have any bearing, bearing in mind that their squad has fundamentally changed in the last couple of years. It'll be a tricky little tie, they've got through a tie against a team from Finland [TPS] in previous years, so we just need to be careful and make sure we play as well as we possibly can to give ourselves a chance of winning.”