FK Partizan coach Vuk Rašović hopes his side's inexperience does not cost them as they bid to overturn a 2-1 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round deficit at home to Bulgarian title holders PFC Ludogorets Razgrad.
The Partizan ranks have been swelled by the return of striker Aleksandar Mitrović, with the 19-year-old back from Lithuania where he spearheaded Serbia to glory in the UEFA European Under-19 Championship. However, a lack of goals has not been Partizan's only issue in Europe this season; having scuffed past Armenia's FC Shirak on away goals after two draws, they have yet to win a game in the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League – and have picked up two red cards, one for each goal scored.
"Our players lack experience and that might be some explanation for their behaviour on the pitch and the number of cards, yellow and red, they have received," sighed 40-year-old boss Rašović, drafted in from feeder club FK Teleoptik Zemun in May. "Both red cards have come for second bookable offences – for fouls which are not that serious but which you have to avoid at this level. We have to learn and I hope those mistakes will not be repeated."
Left-back Vladimir Volkov and midfielder Miloš Jojić both serve suspensions for Tuesday's second leg – an additional hassle for Rašović as he looks to rebuild the Serbian champions in his own image. "Partizan have European experience from previous seasons but we have changed the team a bit over the summer," he said. "With goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković, right-back Aleksandar Miljković, defensive midfielder Milan Smiljanić and forward Lazar Marković all moving abroad, we have to be patient and wait for new players who understand our philosophy."
The Partizan philosophy is second nature for Rašović; born in Dortmund, he came through the Belgrade outfit's youth ranks and represented them in two spells as a defender, in between stints in Bulgaria, Russia and the United States. After hanging up his boots, the five-times Yugoslavian international has returned to his alma mater, initially as youth coach, then assistant coach before taking sole command at Teleoptik – the side that traditionally gives Partizan academy graduates a first taste of senior competitive football.
Promoted by Partizan in time to lift his first title as a coach last term – to add to three won as a player – Rašović's next challenge is to steady the ship in Europe. "We were 1-0 up in Razgrad last week when, for some strange and illogical reason, we sat back and left space for them," he explained. "We can overturn a 2-1 deficit but we have to be brave and work well together, showing a lot more concentration. I am optimistic, though, because our supporters will be like our 12th man.
"Matches this early in the season are always difficult," he added. "The Serbian season doesn't start until 10 August but for about 40 days we have been playing friendlies and European matches. We are still waiting for everything to click into place. I cannot promise that will happen on Tuesday, but I am hopeful and believe we can do it."