The manager also said he took responsibility for a 1-0 home defeat that his captain has called ‘embarrassing.’
IF A TEAM’S ambition is to play in the image of their manager, then Ireland achieved it last night: their torpid, lifeless performance prefaced an equally deadbeat press conference with Stephen Kenny.
Kenny is now winless in his first 10 games in charge, this latest blow the most damaging of them all: a 1-0 loss at home to a Luxembourg side with five World Cup qualifier wins in their entire history prior to last night.
Ireland also had a 100% record against Luxembourg – that’s gone – and given Ireland have zero points after two games with two of their remaining six games against European champions Portugal, it looks to all intents and purposes that any ambitions of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar are dead.
Ireland play Qatar in a friendly on Tuesday but don’t play another competitive game in the qualifying group until 1 September away to Portugal, at which point they will have gone more than two years without a competitive win against anyone. (A run that pre-dates Kenny.)
Amid this hideous backdrop, Kenny says he does not fear for his job when asked in the press conference after last night’s game.
“No, I don’t. I don’t at all.”
All indications are that Kenny retains the backing of the FAI at the moment, though his contract expires at the end of this campaign. FAI Chairperson Roy Barrett and the FAI President Gerry McAnaney are scheduled to speak to the media after an Association EGM later this afternoon where the question will likely be raised.
Reflecting on a defeat decided by an 85th-minute strike from distance by Luxembourg’s Gerson Fernandes, Kenny accentuated a few positives but admitted they are overwhelmed by the ugly fact of the result.
“It ended up being a pretty even match. We had more of the play. We thought James [Collins] had scored, it would have been an outstanding team goal in the first half. But we didn’t create enough to be honest, and we are very disappointed.
“We played really well in Serbia, an exceptional display and deserved to come out with a point. Today was certainly a step back. What it showed me today, and I’m not making excuses, it showed me a lot of players struggled with the physical capacity of playing two games in three days, as a lot of them are not playing for their clubs. That was very evident with quite a few players. Some players struggled to get anywhere near they did the other night.
“We should be creating more than we did. We should have created more than we did on the night. And we are really disappointed and we know it’s not good enough.”
Collins admitted he should have scored that chance to which Kenny refers – “That’s on me” he told the press after the game – and agreed with the respective assessments of his manager and his captain Seamus Coleman, who called the whole thing “embarrassing.”
“I completely agree with the manager and Seamus. It was unacceptable and it was embarrassing. We as players have to take that on the chin and do better.”
Kenny stuck with his 3-5-2 formation from Serbia for this game and didn’t change it throughout the game, in spite of the growing evidence in the second half that it wasn’t working. He also lost Matt Doherty to injury at half-time, but instead of changing the system, he moved Alan Browne to right wing-back (where he has played for his club) and introduced Robbie Brady to play behind strikers Collins and Callum Robinson.
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“Our wingers, Robbie Brady, James McClean…Robbie has been struggling with an achilles injury and James hasn’t played in a month. Playing in wider areas, we probably didn’t have the penetration we would have wanted to play 4-3-3.
“Matt Doherty and Enda Stevens are playing in that position [wing back]with their clubs, Ciaran Clark, Seamus Coleman and Dara O’Shea have played in those positions with their clubs, so they are all familiar positions with their clubs.
“But I take responsibility. I introduced the formation and we have no points after two games. I accept responsibility for that.
“That’s why we didn’t go that way. Our passing needed to be better and more precise, we brought Enda Stevens in as left-sided centre-back with James on the left and Alan Browne advanced on the right to try and get more penetration with Robbie Brady behind the front two.”
It didn’t work, and the squad are now entering a months-long sabbatical ensconced in gloom.