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King urges U21s to overcome elements


NOEL KING has told his Ireland U21 charges to deal with the pressures of being favourites - and the poser of playing on a snowy pitch - when they take on Liechtenstein tonight.

The Irish U21s, who opened their European Championship qualifying campaign with a win at home to Hungary last month, face a relative flurry of activity with games away (tonight) and then at home to Liechtenstein over the next month before a bizarre break of seven months before their next qualifier, at home to Italy.

Liechtenstein are already living up to their reputation as the group's whipping boys with three defeats from three games so far and King admits that being favourites puts added pressure on his side.

"We're expected to win the game and the players will have to deal with that," King told the Herald.

"I will tell the lads they have to get on with the job and just try to win the game. If we win 1-0 with a goal in the 89th minute I will be happy.

"Turkey have already beaten this Liechtenstein team 6-1 and 3-0 and last week Italy beat them 7-2 here in Vaduz. But they're not a bad side, they were missing four of their U21 players for that game against Italy a few days ago as they were with the senior squad and now those four are back in the U21 panel, so that's another factor we have to take into account."

Another factor is the weather, as it was snowing heavily when the Irish squad arrived in Eschen yesterday and since then they've had a steady diet of rain and snow.

"The snow has cleared off the pitch but with the rain on top of that, the surface is very boggy," says King. "It's not an easy place to play, this is the same ground where Ireland drew 0-0 under Jack Charlton in 1995 so I hope we do better than that."

The team that runs out tonight is a much-changed Irish 11, with at least three of the side which opened this campaign with a win over Hungary missing (Gavin Gunning, James McCarthy and Rhys Murphy).

McCarthy is in Dublin with the senior squad but defender Gunning and the impressive forward Murphy will be missed. King also has injury concerns over Adam Barton (Preston) and Joe Mason (Cardiff City) with both players due to undergo fitness tests later today.

IRELAND U21 (probable): McLoughlin (MK Dons); Connolly (Bolton), Kiernan (Wigan), Duffy (Scunthorpe), Stevens (Shamrock R); White (Leeds), Clifford (Chelsea), Brady (Hull C); Barton (Preston), Collins (Shrewsbury), Hourihane (Plymouth).