Stephen Kenny: ‘A very narrow defeat again to a very harsh goal’

Ireland must somehow dig into near empty reserves against Scotland on Saturday

The excuses keep pouring out of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Fluke goal. Undeserved. Unfortunate. More regrets as the national side stumbled to a 10th defeat in 24 matches on the Dubliner’s watch.

“We’ve made life hard for ourselves, I think we’ve lost two very narrow matches,” said Kenny of consecutive 1-0 losses to Armenia and a second-string Ukrainian team, populated with players who have been denied club football since the Russian invasion.

“We are disappointed to lose the game, I thought for spells we did very well, we started really well and ended really well but we weren’t consistent in our play for 90 minutes.”

But that is the consistency of Kenny’s team; start like a train before desperately seeking Shane Duffy’s forehead with wild crosses as injury-time ticks away. The narrative is cementing.

“It was just unfortunate for the [Tsygankov] goal from the sideline that went directly in. It was a huge disappointment for us. It was crucial.”

To be a fly on the wall last winter during drawn out contract negotiations between FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill and Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Signed and sealed until Euro 2024 in Germany, any hope of a brief summer of tranquillity is gone.

Ireland must somehow dig into near empty reserves to handle a Scottish side that just beat Armenia 2-0 before a daunting return leg with Ukraine in Poland where millions of refugees are trying to rebuild their lives.

This Nations League window is officially plunged into crisis as Ukraine made 10 changes from defeat to Wales last Sunday to reveal the great revival of Irish football to be a mirage.

Considering the Ireland team finished with CJ Hamilton and Michael Obafemi leading the line, Alan Browne on the right as James McClean struggled to find space down the left wing, many people asked the same question as they trudged out of the Aviva Stadium: what on earth is Kenny doing?

“I don’t accept they were fitter. We can play better than we did. We played well in spells. We went more direct than we have done in recent times. We have to show more composure in the build-up than we did.

“We can do better overall. I am not saying we can’t do better than we did. We still have to get to the levels of the Portugal game and the Belgium game,” said Kenny, referring to games Ireland did not win.

“A very narrow defeat to a very harsh goal.”

Visiting manager Olexandr Petrakov thanked Ireland for accepting refugees from his country before providing more clarity after a famous win in front of at least 3,500 Ukrainians in the 40,111 crowd.

“I decided to rest players who had an extremely difficult game in Wales,” he said. “Not to harm the boys who left everything on the pitch in Wales, so I decided to field young players who needed first-hand experience of big games. I am very happy with a win.

“After a bitter loss in Wales we turn the page and look forward to our future.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent