Stephen Kenny under pressure as Ireland’s qualification hopes come to end

By Sports Desk October 13, 2023

Stephen Kenny’s reign as Republic of Ireland manager reached the point of no return after a comprehensive 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Greece finally killed off any hope of Euro 2024 qualification.

First-half goals from Giorgos Giakoumakis and Giorgos Masouras at a sparsely-populated Aviva Stadium plunged Ireland’s shambolic Group B campaign further into the mire and left Kenny, whose tenure is due to be reviewed next month, with nowhere to turn.

His team has managed to take just three points from its first six games of the campaign – and those from Gibraltar, who they face again in Faro on Monday evening – and for all his claims to have revitalised his squad with young, hungry players, he has not been rewarded with what he needs most – results.

Gus Poyet’s Greece, who already have a play-off place secured via the Nations League, went into the game ranked four places higher than Ireland, but were streets ahead in terms of both potency and solidity, and they will entertain the Netherlands and France in their remaining fixtures with 12 points banked and hope of upsetting the odds.

For Kenny, there is only the prospect of a bloody post mortem amid a mounting chorus of disapproval after a night which ended with a smattering of boos, but more apathy.

The return of 18-year-old Brighton striker Evan Ferguson after he missed September’s double-header against France and the Netherlands through injury had provided cause for optimism, but that dwindled after a bright start in which Will Smallbone forced a fourth-minute save from keeper Odysseas Vlachodimos and Ferguson grazed the foot of his right post with a curling shot.

Central defenders Shane Duffy and Nathan Collins repeatedly found themselves in possession, but with little useful movement ahead of them, and it was home keeper Gavin Bazunu who was called upon to keep out Tasos Bakasetas’ dipping, swerving shot from distance, which he did, but in unconvincing fashion.

The visitors were growing into the game and they silenced the home crowd with 20 minutes gone when Liverpool full-back Kostas Tsimikas was allowed to make ground before crossing for the criminally unmarked Giakoumakis to head powerfully past the helpless Bazunu.

Ogbene saw a snapshot blocked at source and Smallbone curled an effort over from range as the Republic responded, but with Greece working hard to deny them time and space, prompting Ferguson to drop deeper in search of the ball, they struggled to create meaningful opportunities.

Bazunu fielded another Bakasetas shot with some comfort as the Greeks prospered on the break and had to make a fine 37th-minute stop to keep out Dimitris Pelkas’ from Giakoumakis’ clever reverse pass after Petros Mantalos and Masouras had made the most of Ferguson’s failure to retain the ball on halfway.

Kenny’s men were laboured in their efforts to claw themselves back into the game with Josh Cullen firing harmlessly over after Ogbene had floated a cross beyond Ferguson and Duffy heading tamely at Vlachodimos from a Smallbone free-kick, and their plight worsened deep into stoppage time.

Giakoumakis did well to control Petros Mantalos’ steepling clearance on his chest and when Dimitris Pelkas returned his cross into the middle, Masouras pounced to make it 2-0.

Matt Doherty’s unwitting intervention prevented Pelkas’ 53rd-minute shot from creeping inside Bazunu’s left post after Bakasetas had opened Ireland up once again, but the hosts belatedly built up a head of steam.

Jason Knight sent a skidding attempt wide from distance and then saw appeals for a penalty waved away after he had gone down under Masouras’ challenge, and Kenny sent on striker Callum Robinson and winger Mikey Johnston with 20 minutes remaining in a desperate search for inspiration.

Vlachodimos repelled a 83rd-minute Doherty header with his feet and Robinson dragged a shot wide seconds later, but redemption proved beyond Kenny’s side.

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