Wednesday 26 April 2017

King insists Liechtenstein 'no mugs' as U-21s look to bounce back

John Fallon

ESCHEN in Liechtenstein was the scene for one of the most embarrassing results in Irish football history, but Noel King hopes his U-21s will have no such problems there in their UEFA Championship qualifier tonight (6.0 Irish time).

The senior side's scoreless draw in the tiny Alpine venue in 1995 ultimately brought an end of Jack Charlton's golden decade at the helm, although Mick McCarthy banished the demons a year later by recording a 5-0 win in his opening competitive match as manager.

Liechtenstein have since shown they're capable of troubling established countries, as Scotland discovered last Saturday when a solitary goal kept Craig Levein's side in the mix for a Euro play-off.

King attended that qualifier in Vaduz to watch four members of the Liechtenstein senior team set to feature for their U-21s.

"Liechtenstein may be the bottom seeds in our group but they're no mugs," said the Irish manager as the snow that had threatened a postponement of Saturday's Scotland game began to subside.

Without their four best players, who were on senior duty, their U-21s were ahead against top seeds in the group Italy for 20 minutes on Thursday before eventually losing 7-2.

Difficult

"They make things difficult for their opponents, especially in these cold conditions, and we need to approach the game properly," added King.

Manchester City full-back Greg Cunningham, back in an Irish squad for the first time since suffering a broken leg on New Year's Day, agrees with his manager's cautionary note.

He said: "This is a tricky one and we won't be underestimating Liechtenstein. They've scored against the leading seeds in our group, Turkey and Italy, so we'll need a good performance."

Victory is essential to Ireland's prospects of challenging for qualification. Their win over Hungary in last month's opener was followed by a narrow defeat in Turkey five days later.

Capped three times at senior level, Cunningham's addition to the U-21 squad is a boost, but he is likely to be on the bench, having played only a couple of reserve team friendlies for City in recent weeks.

Shamrock Rovers full-back Enda Stevens is poised to deputise for the injured Gavin Gunning, while Terry Dixon, currently rebuilding his promising career with non-league Halifax Town, is pushing for a place in attack.

IRELAND (probable) -- McLoughlin (MK Dons); Connolly (Bolton), Canavan (Scunthorpe), Kiernan (Wigan), Stevens (Shamrock Rovers); Towell (Hibernian), Barton (Preston), Clifford (Chelsea); Brady (Hull), Mason (Cardiff ), White (Leeds).

Irish Independent

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