Stephen Kenny has ordered his Republic of Ireland players not to feel sorry for themselves as they prepare for their do-or-die Nations League clash with Bulgaria.
A draw at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday evening would see Ireland avoid relegation from League B4, but a first victory of the new manager’s reign at the eighth attempt would halt an alarming slide.
The team Kenny inherited from Mick McCarthy have not won a competitive game since they beat Gibraltar in a Euro 2020 qualifier in June last year and more worryingly, have not now scored a single goal in a record six outings.
Kenny said: “You can’t afford to feel sorry for yourselves. It’s not going to do anyone any good. I’m not really one for focusing on the positives, but with all that we’ve had to contend with over the last week, I thought the mentality of the players was brilliant.
“They actually gave everything of themselves and it was just a very, very tight game, like the goal we conceded, just a deflection off Shane Duffy’s head, it came up in the air over Matt (Doherty) and just a header back across the goal, so it was a difficult one to take.
“Listen, what can you do? We’ll get ready for Wednesday.”
Ireland have now played nine games in two Nations League campaigns and have won none of them, and although they enjoyed the better of the first half in Cardiff, they were ultimately undone by David Brooks’ 67th-minute header.
Jeff Hendrick was sent off for a professional foul on substitute Tyler Roberts in stoppage time as the visitors chased an equaliser, and both he and fellow midfielder Jayson Molumby will be suspended for the Bulgaria game.
If Ireland face a tense evening at the Aviva Stadium, Wales, who are now unbeaten in 10 competitive games and have not conceded in more than 700 minutes of football, will welcome Finland to Cardiff knowing a draw will be enough to defend their one-point lead a the top of the table.
Caretaker manager Robert Page said: “It’s down to us again. We’ve shown in the past that we can do it. We did it last autumn in big games.
“We all know it’s coming down to the last game on Wednesday. We thought there was a chance it could do, but we had to do was worry about our performance and win the game.
“We’ve done that, job done, and now it’s onto Wednesday and our full focus will be on to that.”