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Kelly: We must kick on to qualify

FULHAM defender Stephen Kelly admits that the Republic of Ireland will have to up their game when it comes to the crunch of the play-offs next month.

But Kelly admits that anyone hoping that the manager will adapt his rigid formation and approach for the play-offs will be disappointed as the Italian is not for changing.

Of course, Tuesday's win over Armenia secured a place in the play-offs for Giovanni Trapattoni's side, so Ireland renew hostilities with the play-off round which has been such an unhappy venture for teams in the past, with exits against Holland, Belgium, Turkey and France.

There was a mixed reaction from some of the Ireland squad to Tuesday's events, with senior pros like Shay Given knocking back suggestions that the team hadn't played well in that game or in recent qualifiers.

But the fact remains that, of the 10 home competitive games played under Trapattoni, this Irish team has won just four (Cyprus, Georgia, Andorra and Armenia), has kept just three clean sheets (against Cyprus, Montenegro and Slovakia) and have only won once by a margin more than one goal (the 3-1 win over Andorra).

"We're in the play-offs now, there's no longer the safety net of a whole campaign to make up points and gain lost ground, so I have no doubt that we can up our game and do better," said Kelly, the Fulham defender who won his 28th senior cap at left-back as a replacement for the suspended Stephen Ward.


"On our day we can beat anyone and perform as well as anybody. We had the crowd behind us the other night and if we can get them supporting us in the play-offs, we have an even better chance.

"We know we can play better, it's up to us in the play-offs to show that and to prove that we are a team capable of winning the play-offs and getting to the finals, because I know that every single player in that Irish squad is just desperate to get to Poland and Ukraine.

"The main thing is that we did the job, we had a good campaign and are in the play-offs.

"It's slightly disappointing that we didn't qualify automatically but we have a place in the play-offs and we have a great chance of qualifying."

But Kelly insists that the manager will not change Ireland's style to suit the new arena of a play-off. "I can't see us changing the way we play, it's stood for us so far, we get results - especially away from home," he said.

"We can score goals away from home and do what's needed so I can't see why we will make big changes.

"We are a hard team to beat and that will be the key for us.

"I have experience of that in Europe with Fulham - if you are hard to beat you can go a long way, as we did in the Europa League last year, and Ireland are a bit like that, hard to beat and capable of winning matches."

Most of the Irish squad admit that the team has yet make the new Lansdowne Road a home, let alone a fortress, as shown by the relatively poor return of results in the Dublin 4 venue.

But Kelly hopes that Tuesday night was a sign that the Lansdowne Roar is back. "I think that was the best atmosphere I have seen at the place since we went back there after the old Lansdowne was knocked," stated Kelly, who made his senior debut for Ireland against Chile in the old Lansdowne Road back in 2006.


"I think it took the fans time to get used to the place and to make it our own again, but the fans were really behind us the other night, they made some noise and we appreciated it," he added.

"It was a difficult game the other night. Armenia were a very good side, their confidence was sky-high after their recent run when they were scoring freely and won a lot of games, so they were a threat in attack.

"Once we got the first goal and they were down to 10 men we dominated. We had some spells in the second half when we created and did well, we got balls into Simon Cox. The goal gave them some impetus and put them back into the game but we held on and won.

"It was hard in the second half. I was on a yellow card and everyone was saying, 'don't tackle, don't do anything stupid', because you had the sense that the referee was going to dish out cards. I was on tenterhooks, making sure I wasn't diving in and I stayed on my feet."

Ireland's eight-match clean sheet record is gone and that is perhaps a concern ahead of the home leg of the play-off: in recent play-offs, Ireland have conceded a goal at home each time, apart from the 2-0 win over Iran in 2001, and it was the concession of an away goal to Turkey in Dublin which stopped Mick McCarthy's team from going to Euro 2000.

Kelly added: "It's disappointing to lose the clean sheet record as it would have been nice to take that into the play-offs, but we're still unbeaten, that's nine games now without defeat and we can take great heart from that going into the play-offs.

"We're still a confident side."