Stephen Kenny has launched a passionate defence of his Republic of Ireland reign after admitting their World Cup hopes are realistically over.
Ireland needed a late Shane Duffy equaliser to spare them the ignominy of a home defeat at the hands of Azerbaijan, ranked 112th in the world, as they belatedly opened their Group A account at the fourth time of asking after a 1-1 draw in Dublin.
As a result, they sit second bottom in the table at the halfway stage, nine points adrift of joint leaders Portugal and Serbia and without a competitive win in 15 attempts.
However, asked if he might have to accept that it was not working for him, defiant manager Kenny said: “No, I certainly do not accept that. No, absolutely not.
“We were absolutely exceptional against Portugal, we played very well in the previous game against Hungary, the previous game we scored four goals, the previous game against Qatar we played well and then the previous game, we obviously had a poor game against Luxembourg, but the previous game against Serbia, again excellent. So a lot of the recent performances have been very, very good.
“But we’ve got to turn performances into results. We’ve played an awful lot of good football, if I mention those recent games – Serbia, Hungary, obviously getting four against Andorra, the other night against Portugal.
“Today where we played a lot of good football and created a lot of chances, if we win 2-1, we’re having a different conversation, so we’re kicking ourselves that we haven’t won that game.”
Three days after being denied victory in Portugal by Cristiano Ronaldo’s late heroics, Ireland enjoyed the better of the game at the Aviva Stadium, but could not take their chances and were made to pay when midfielder Emin Makhmudov fired the visitors ahead on the stroke of half-time.
Kenny’s side, which featured youthful attacking trio Troy Parrott, Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly from the start, laid siege to the Azerbaijan goal for much of the second half and eventually got their reward when Duffy levelled with just three minutes remaining.
A late onslaught failed to produced a winner and with Serbia, who beat Luxembourg 4-1, due in Dublin on Tuesday, Kenny admitted qualification looks to be beyond them.
Asked if he would need another campaign to reach the finals of a major tournament, he said: “I think even before today…
“Only one qualifies from the group, Portugal and Serbia have accumulated a lot of points, so even before today it was going to be difficult to qualify for the World Cup, we acknowledged that.
“We would have had to probably see it out against Portugal the other night to put ourselves right back in contention for that.
“What I’ve got to do now is actually pick the team up for the game against Serbia. They had a big win tonight so we have to dust ourselves down, third game in six days, and get ourselves right and put in a strong performance against a very good Serbian team.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re right for that game on Tuesday. That’s the main objective now at the moment.”