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Time is major issue for new boss

Critics won't be silenced until Kenny delivers against Slovakia


PRESSURE: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

PRESSURE: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

PRESSURE: Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

Here's a sobering statistic. It's almost three years since Shane Duffy lulled the nation into a false sense of security by breaking the deadlock in the ill-fated World Cup play-off with Denmark and, in the intervening period, the only competitive outings where Ireland have scored first are a pair of matches with Gibraltar and the tennis ball game with Georgia.

Green shirts have never broken the deadlock in the UEFA Nations League.

This is in keeping with the theme running through showdowns with sides of similar or a higher standard; the one constant is that Irish sides tend to enter the final stages chasing a deficit.

In Mick McCarthy's four campaign defining fixtures with Switzerland and Denmark, the opposition were 1-0 up entering the final five minutes. His side rallied to draw three of those games.

The pattern of the matches may have been different, but Kenny's side found themselves in an identical position in his maiden double header. Duffy rescued a point in Sofia and there were chances to do the same on Sunday but in every scenario Ireland have found themselves playing catch-up.

Next month in Slovakia, they really can't afford to end up in that position.

Kenny's job is about a broader long-term vision geared towards consistent results rather than a short-term quick hit, but those individuals guilty of a dramatic over-reaction to the Finland reverse will surely be devoid of understanding if things go wrong in Bratislava.

There is always going to be pressure on Kenny in this gig and there are two aspects to his preparation for the all-important October gathering. The lessons he has learned from the 180 minutes of action. And the factors outside his influence that could prove equally as significant.


THE EXPERIENCE ANGLE: If the last week really was about experimenting to get a better handle on the attacking options for Slovakia - in other words, an attempt to accelerate the development of younger guns - then does this mean there was always a plan to go back to older heads for the knockout game? There may be significance in Sunday's switches with Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly replaced by David McGoldrick and James McClean. Injury forced Callum O'Dowda to step aside for Callum Robinson. It's not inconceivable that the finishing front three is selected for the next encounter.

McGoldrick will surely start if fit, but the question is if Connolly has done enough to unship McClean. Kenny wasn't expecting Connolly to shift back and join the defensive effort, but there's a risk v reward in this department. The other area where seniority comes into the equation is at right full.

THE DOHERTY DILEMMA: The best opportunity created in general play against the Finns came from Matt Doherty embarking forward to release Robinson with a perfect pass threaded through white shirts. We didn't see enough of that from the Spurs signing, however, and there were sloppy moments which posed the question if he was one of those struggling to snap out of holiday mode.

But it's a while since he's had a sustained run at right back. Jose Mourinho may be planning to use him there, but a problem for Ireland is the space forged by a defensive disconnect between Doherty and Duffy that is exposing the latter. Recalling Séamus Coleman would be a method to address that.

Kenny has laid down a marker by saying he feels Doherty has been undervalued. Evidently, the Dubliner is likely to be his man going forward. Ireland have a pair of Nations League matches in October after Slovakia so there will be ample window there to shape a plan for down the road. Bringing the skipper back for Bratislava may be an appealing prospect.

THE SYSTEM: Kenny asserted on Sunday that he isn't wedded to a particular strategy, and there will be ample time to mull over the best approach in the coming weeks. He only has a handful of training sessions again before entering battle so we know there won't be a radical switch to three at the back.

The most plausible switch is to revert from a 4-3-3 to something closer to a 4-2-3-1. This would suit McClean moreso than Connolly and the more compact central structure would avoid a scenario where a holding midfielder (James McCarthy and Harry Arter) exposes the back four if they are sucked out of position.

The manager did point out that the approach in recent memory was about protecting the back four and he clearly wants a more progressive mindset but Ireland have been open in that area. Maybe match sharpness was a factor but it's food for thought. Slovakia do try and hold the ball so that will test the Irish shape and concentration.

THE MIDFIELD THREE: There's an overlap in this question as it will be influenced by formations, but Kenny must opt whether to go with his Bulgaria trio, the Finnish selections or a bit from Column A and a bit from Column B. His faith in McCarthy is such that it would be a shock if he left him out. Arter won praise for his contribution against Finland.

It may not necessarily be a case of one or the other but including both creates a choice between Jeff Hendrick and Conor Hourihane. It's arguably too soon for Jayson Molumby, while Robbie Brady is tied up with the main uncontrollable.


CLUB FORM: Ireland were sluggish in both games and it would be disingenuous to just ignore the pre-season angle. Shane Duffy and Matt Doherty arrived off the back of time-consuming transfers and they were heavy-legged at times. The midfield flagged, and that 4-3-3 outlook is hugely reliant on the energy of the central three.

Kenny is a major fan of Brady, but if he returns to Burnley and finds himself back on the bench again, then it would be too much of an ask to imagine the Dubliner as a 90-minute option for Bratislava. Molumby and Idah are not expected to start the season as first choice with their employers.

Darren Randolph won't be in action at the outset either. Even Coleman has been in and out of the side with Everton. If Kenny wants his side to operate at a higher tempo, then he will have to lean on those who are featuring regularly, regardless of his preference.

THE INJURY ANGLE: Slovakia were dreadful against the Czech Republic on Friday, but Covid-related travel restrictions and then a spate of injuries weakened their hand. Indeed, their manager is coming under scrutiny and they badly need goalkeeper Martin Dubravka to shake off an injury problem.

Any setback for Randolph would be a nightmare for Kenny. In a strange way, it's hard to argue that any other player is indispensable.

The Sheffield United trio John Egan, Enda Stevens and McGoldrick are pretty important as there's no obvious like for like replacement if one was struck down. Duffy is in this bracket too, yet the jury is out on whether this style truly suits him.

Back-up options Darragh Lenihan and Dara O'Shea would perhaps grasp the football brief, but it would be a hell of a game for a rookie international to be pitched into.

It does appear that Ireland have more strength in depth than their opponents, though. It's just a matter of how the new manager chooses to utilise the options.