Stephen Kenny hails man-of-the-match Will Smallbone: ‘He gives us something to think about certainly’

Will Smallbone of Ireland with manager Stephen Kenny

Daniel McDonnell

Stephen Kenny hailed the impact of man of the match Will Smallbone after an impressive Ireland debut opened up the possibility he will play some part in Monday’s Euro qualifier with France.

The Stoke player stood out on a night where Evan Ferguson scored a first Ireland goal and another newcomer, Mikey Johnston, made an impact off the bench.

However, it was Smallbone’s contribution that generated debate afterwards with the France game in mind – although Kenny did stress that Derby’s Jason Knight was held back with a view to the clash with Les Bleus, a statement which suggests he is a strong contender to start.

Josh Cullen will definitely come into the team and with Jayson Molumby’s high energy style likely to be given strong consideration for the French encounter, Smallbone (23) might just find himself the odd man out.

But the manager acknowledged the Stoke player had put his hand up.

“He gives us something to think about certainly,” said Kenny.

“I watched a good bit of Stoke recently and the last seven weeks I’ve been so impressed with how he has kicked on. He was a good player earlier in the season in some games and quiet in others, good moments but not dominant. But he’s been very good for Stoke, he’s added other aspects to his game and has come on a lot.

“He gives us another option,” he continued, when asked directly about whether the France game would come too soon in his Irish journey.

“We’ll have to see how everyone comes through today. The two players we kept fresh - Josh Cullen does that job very well and Jason Knight as well. They were kept fresh today. They come into consideration.”

Kenny was measured in his praise of Ferguson, stressing that the 18-year-old is still ‘learning the game’ after his goalscoring contribution.

He said Johnston’s sprightly cameo highlighted why he recruited the Celtic winger who is currently on loan in Portugal. “That’s a snapshot of what Mikey can be,” he said.

Overall, the former Dundalk boss admitted his team will have to accept criticism for a pair of long range concessions before the interval, hinting that overconfidence may have contributed to the build-up.

He also felt his team’s second half play lacked cohesion until a reshuffle that brought in Johnston and Chiedozie Ogbene to add pace in wide areas.

“It wasn’t the perfect performance,” he said, “There’s no formalities. At 2-0 it looked like it would be a formality but in the second half, we weren’t all that cohesive. We looked very good for periods but could have been better at times.”

Meanwhile, Kenny confirmed that skipper Seamus Coleman sat the game out with a ‘slight strain’ sustained with his club. He said the Donegal man should be fine for the France game.