Ireland out to banish Bratislava blues – 5 talking points ahead of Wales clash
The Republic of Ireland return to action on Sunday still smarting from their heart-breaking Euro 2020 play-off semi-final exit in Slovakia.
Stephen Kenny’s men launched their Nations League campaign with a 1-1 draw in Bulgaria and a 1-0 home defeat by Finland last month, and will hope to bounce back with a first victory against Wales.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look a some of the talking points surrounding the game.
Ireland’s hopes of making a third successive Euro finals were dashed in the most cruel of fashions at the Narodny Stadium when, after enjoying the better of the game and being denied victory by a post in extra-time, they lost 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out. The wounds from an agonising evening in Slovakia remain raw, but they cannot afford to take any hangover into a game in which they can restore their battered morale.
May the fourth be with you
Kenny’s reign as manager was never going to be defined by what happened in Bratislava, a game which, had the coronavirus not intervened, would have taken place on predecessor Mick McCarthy’s watch. However, his first three games at the helm have not yielded a win and, while there is a general sense of goodwill towards a man who previously plied his trade largely in Ireland’s domestic league, a victory – something the Republic are yet to taste in six Nations League outings – would help to bed him into his role.
Going for goals
Ireland have scored just one goal in 300 minutes of football under their new manager, and that came from central defender Shane Duffy. Indeed, they have scored just 22 in their last 27 competitive matches, with Duffy and winger James McClean contributing four each. Kenny’s mission is to instil a more attacking brand of football and the loss of strikers Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah in Slovakia under Covid-19 protocols did not help. Sean Maguire and Daryl Horgan have since been added to a pool of attacking players comprising David McGoldrick, Callum Robinson, Shane Long, Callum O’Dowda and McClean and the manager will be looking for a return on the faith he has invested.
Ringing the changes
Kenny used the first two Nations League fixtures to assess his options ahead of the game in Bratislava and, with a trip to Finland to come on Wednesday evening, needs to manage his resources carefully. He has used the same back five – Darren Randolph, Matt Doherty, Duffy, John Egan and Enda Stevens – in all three games to date, but has tinkered with his midfield and strike-force. His former Under-21s skipper Jayson Molumby could earn a second cap, while Robbie Brady and Jack Byrne will hope for midfield berths, and O’Dowda started both games in the front three last month, but came off the bench on Thursday night after recovering from a groin injury.
Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales have proved something of a thorn in the Irish side in recent meetings. McClean fired Ireland to a priceless 1-0 World Cup qualifying victory in Cardiff in October 2017 after a 0-0 draw in Dublin during March of the same year. However, Ryan Giggs’ men gained revenge 11 months later when a youthful side romped to a 4-1 Nations League win courtesy of goals from Tom Lawrence, Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts before Harry Wilson’s strike clinched a 1-0 success at the Aviva Stadium the following month.