Stephen Kenny steps up for another spin on the wheel of fortune

By Paul O'Hehir

Like the game show contestant bidding to strike it lucky, Stephen Kenny steps up tonight for another spin on the wheel of fortune.

Where will it land? Nobody knows. And that’s been the problem. Ireland’s consistency under Kenny has been their inconsistency.

But it’s not a spin in the dark either. Despite the flak coming his way, Kenny takes centre stage with his eyes wide open and fixed on the road ahead.

His trust in the process is unwavering and he said last night: “We’re formulating a team that’s going to be very strong over the next couple of years.”

Seeing some tangible results on the pitch will make that bullish prediction that bit easier to swallow, of course.

Yes, all of the good work in Portugal was undone against Azerbaijan and Kenny must feel it’s Groundhog Day, with a couple of wispy suggestions over his future doing the rounds.

His critics are back above the parapet, trigger happy and ready to spray bullets should Ireland slump again when they host Serbia tonight.

They know a win would only validate claims for a new contract beyond next July and into Euro 2024, which Kenny revealed last night is his long-term vision and goal.

Ireland's Seamus Coleman with Maksim Alaskarov of Azerbaijan (©INPHO/James Crombie)

The potential for a poor home crowd in next month’s friendly against Qatar will be on the mind of FAI beancounters, and that matters of course.

But for now, Kenny appears to have sufficient backing from the right people in the FAI and said: “We’re just focusing on the game against Serbia. We’re very united here.

“We’ve put in some strong performances and haven't got what we deserved, but we have emerged with a lot of really good stuff.

“We would have wanted the results to be better for sure.

“If we had won 2-1 the other night and got a 1-0 (in Faro), would everything be great after Portugal because we won?

“But because we didn’t, it’s a catastrophe.

“There’s such volatility between how people felt after Portugal and seeing that level of performance.”

And Kenny continued: “In terms of Portugal or Serbia away from home, Irish teams haven’t played with that level of confidence in many, many years.

“We just have to be better in these home games. We’ve got to score goals against teams at home, as we haven’t been.

“You can point to statistics (one win in 15 games) and that’s fair enough, but there’s a lot of progress being made.”

Ireland's Shane Duffy after the game (©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo)

Questioned yesterday about two speculative media reports that his job ‘“could” be on the line, Kenny showed his fiery side for the first time in a long time.

Not at the reports themselves, which he quickly dismissed as “irrelevant”, but more so the suggestion that Ireland’s obsession with the quick-fix is alive and well.

And when some of the bookies are installing Neil Lennon as the leading contender to replace Kenny, well, you really do have to wonder what people want.

Lines are being spun in the shadows and Kenny must wonder if the same “people behind the scenes” who conspired against him over the farcical Wembley-gate saga are back for more.

As always in this game, results will determine the manager’s future but it appears wide of the mark to suggest that hinges solely on tonight’s game.

Ireland's Shane Duffy celebrates after scoring a goal with Callum Robinson (©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo)

“We had a staff run through the city this morning, as we do regularly, and a lot of the Irish public are very positive,” said Kenny.

“We’re disappointed that we didn’t win the other night but that (speculation over his future) is irrelevant to me.

“It’s part of international management and it comes with the territory. It’s not something that I’m concerned about.

“My contract is not up until next July so this is not about my contract. This is about us preparing for the Serbia game which is a very important game.

"We had a brilliant game with them in Serbia - it was an outstanding game of football (3-2 defeat) and they are a very good side.”

Ireland rarely throw in two absolute stinkers in-a-row so the hope is Kenny can summon a response from Saturday’s demoralising draw.

If they don’t win tonight, reaching the World Cup playoffs is officially over but really that slim hope evaporated at the weekend.

It's entirely possible that a positive return may only be a stay of execution until the end of this campaign depending how the rest of it goes, but it would at least quell the hysteria.

Ireland desperately need a springboard to better days and if tonight can finally be that starting point for a Kenny-led charge to Euro 2024, well, don’t turn your nose up at it.

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