Ireland v Azerbaijan: A win is vital for Stephen Kenny, nothing else matters

Kenny has overseen 16 games in all competitions and only one of those has ended in triumph: against Andorra back in June...
Ireland v Azerbaijan: A win is vital for Stephen Kenny, nothing else matters

Jamie McGrath, Harry Arter, coach Damien Doyle, Daryl Horgan, John Egan and Will Keane during a Republic of Ireland training session. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

DESPITE the last international break failing to produce a single victory, a lot of supporters of the Irish national team insisted they would be standing by their manager Stephen Kenny.

There had been enough positive signs in the performance away to Portugal and the character shown at home to Serbia to suggest the former Dundalk boss could still turn his tenure into a success.

But there is still a not-so-small minority that believes he needs to be replaced and should the Republic of Ireland end this upcoming international break again without a victory, they will only grow in numbers.

Kenny has shown during his time in charge so far that he can set his sides up to do well in the big games but now he needs to finally show they can do that against the lesser teams also.

He needs to start beating the lesser teams and with Azerbaijan and Qatar on the horizon, they present Ireland with two extremely winnable games. They need to win at least one, if not both because his record needs to improve.

At present, he has taken charge of 16 games in all competitions and only one of those has ended in triumph as his side came from a goal down to defeat Andorra 4-1 back in June.

But with his only win coming in that friendly, it means his winless run in competitive fixtures stands at 12.

Should that stand at 13 come Saturday night, the pressure will only mount on him and his side for their fixtures at home to Portugal and away to Luxembourg in November when they could be looking to avoid it becoming 14 and 15 at the time when Kenny’s fate will be decided by the FAI.

So even though qualification for the World Cup is all but impossible — mathematically they can still finish second — Saturday’s game in Baku (kick-off is at 5 pm) takes on some significance.

The performance is not important on this occasion, it’s all about winning. And Kenny knows it.

“I can’t dwell on the negative aspect of what happens if we don’t win. We just have to focus on trying to win the game, that is our objective.

“I think the players’ attitude has been excellent, the spirit is excellent, but we have to turn that into wins.

“We realise that and I think we have to bring that into the game and try to get that win.

“The players are very determined, they have shown a terrific attitude and we want to go and win the game on Saturday.

“I’m not above criticism. It’s clear what our objectives are and we just want to try to achieve them on Saturday.

Criticism is part of it, I can accept that. We just have to prepare the team and try to get the victory that we need on Saturday.”

And while most people in Ireland will be tuning in to see if the Boys in Green can finally get that elusive three points, which would all but ensure that they won’t finish bottom of Group A, as always we will also be keeping a close eye on how the Cork lads get on.

In total, there are five Cork natives in the final squad.

Goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher, who is more likely to feature Tuesday night vs Qatar rather than against Azerbaijan, defender John Egan, who will surely start in the heart of the defence, while midfielder Conor Hourihane and forwards Chiedozie Ogbene and Adam Idah are again included.

Out of the quintet, the spotlight may well shine brightest on Idah over the next few days.

He has rightly been praised ahead of this game for his all-round performances but now he just needs to find the back of the net for the first time at senior level in what would be his 11th appearance.

“He (Idah) is frustrated himself. It certainly bothers him that he hasn’t scored yet, but he’s giving us an awful lot of attributes,” said Kenny.

“He is the highest goalscorer we have in all our underage teams in our history so he is a natural goalscorer, but he just hasn’t been able to take one for the senior international team yet.

“I’m sure that’s a matter of time.”

Hopefully, that time will come Saturday against Azerbaijan.

Both he and Kenny could do with it.

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