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The appointment of Stephen Kenny was asking a lot.
It was asking people to accept a man who knows Irish football ten times better than anyone who’d managed the Irish side since Brian Kerr. It was asking for patience in seeing someone transform the Irish side into ‘well-drilled, disciplined’ footballers who produce luck-ridden dross time and time again.
It was also asking for a shift in focus – on developing youth and blending it into a new side that could prove sustained success is possible.
World Cup 2022 Qualifier: Serbia v Ireland
Wednesday, March 24: 7.45pm
Sky Sports Football/ RTE 2
Now it’s Stephen Kenny asking for something, and the only thing he really wants is a bit of luck. His injury list resembles a flight manifest more than a health report, but he won’t make excuses like the majority of people’s mistakes he’s been charged with fixing.
So, to Serbia. There’s no more ‘project’, no more bedding in period. Results are now more important than they even were when he first took the reins and got rational support from the press about a lack of goals.
But there could have been easier fixtures for us to land on – and the promise of three points against Luxembourg feels an iron curtain away. Here’s a Bet Builder with a dose of cynicism.
Look, one of Ireland’s biggest ever footballing success stories happened in Belgrade. A Shamrock Rovers team travelled to the Serbian capital ten years ago and progressed into the Europa League group stages thanks to an extra-time penalty from Stephen O’Donnell.
Stephen Kenny knows this story well.
However, given current injury status and a presumed lack of confidence in themselves as a goalscoring force, this can really only go one way. Of course it might seem rich offering Serbia a two-goal victory when Scotland overcame this Serbian team in a playoff for the Euros back in November, but we should probably come to accept that we’d gladly take Scotland’s level of form right now.
Yes, a few years ago we firmly believed we’d be hitting heights out of reach of the Scots due to our influx of youth – but we’re currently in that middle ground where the likes of Cullen, Knight and Parrott have a way to go to be established – and every other player from Muff to Tarbert is on a treatment table.
I hope this isn’t as ugly as I expect.
You just can’t see it, can you?
Not to default on the last ten years of our lives – and I admit Kenny will bring a better approach over time (if he’s given it), but right now, the inclusion of an out-of-form Shane Duffy is almost as important from a goalscoring perspective than it is a defensive standpoint.
And that’s problematic for everyone.
Maybe slightly borrowing from the first point, but Ireland won’t find the net – and Serbia aren’t frequent running-up-the-score types – their 5-0 trouncing of Russia aside. The last time they scored more than twice in an international bar the aforementioned was in a 3-2 win over Luxembourg in 2019.
Hang on, are we really running scared of a side who shipped twice to a landlocked garden with a castle?
His stint at Madrid hasn’t been flying, but he’s back in his comfort zone at Frankfurt and looks happier in himself. And him being happier promises an Irish day of national mourning.
Jovic will be among the best technical players on this pitch and Serbia play some crisp stuff in the final third. If only they reverted to long ball so Shane Duffy could once again convince the world that he’s just a second coming of Richard Dunne.
He isn’t – he’s not even a second coming of his former self, and that should cause enough problems for Ireland.
Serbia v Ireland betting tips
A Paddy Power Bet Builder of the above four bets clocks in at around 25/1
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