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Top scorer? Most appearances? Analysing Ireland's last 8 games under Stephen Kenny

The Boys in Green have had some mixed results in recent times.

Updated Oct 2nd 2022, 3:10 PM

YOU MAY recall last year we analysed Stephen Kenny’s first 20 games in charge as Ireland manager.

Below is an update encompassing the similarly challenging last eight games, including two friendlies and the latest Nations League campaign in its entirety.

When the last article was written, there was a degree of uncertainty around the Dubliner’s future as manager, given that he had not yet signed a new contract.

The below set of games took place after the extension was confirmed, although many of the same questions remained, amid a campaign that had good and bad moments but was frustratingly inconsistent overall.

1. Ireland 2-2 Belgium (friendly)

chiedozie-ogbene-shakes-hands-with-orel-mangala-after-the-game Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Seamus Coleman (captain), Shane Duffy, John Egan; Matt Doherty; Josh Cullen, Jeff Hendrick (Alan Browne, 75′); James McClean (Ryan Manning, 80′); Chiedozie Ogbene, Jason Knight (Will Keane 75′); Callum Robinson (Troy Parrott, 90′)

Formation: 3-4-3

An optimistic start to part II of the Kenny era, as Ireland earned a draw at home to one of the best sides in the world. Granted, it was a largely second-string Belgian team, but this was regarded as another positive performance from the Irish side on the back of their encouraging end to the World Cup campaign. Michy Batshuayi gave the visitors an early lead before Chiedozie Ogbene equalised. The visitors then re-took the lead in the second half through Hans Vanaken before Alan Browne’s late header salvaged a draw that was not undeserved on the basis of play. Furthermore, the result stretched Ireland’s unbeaten run at the time to seven matches.

What Kenny said afterwards: “I thought it was a high technical standard overall. Obviously, I felt it was end to end, really. I’m disappointed with the two goals that we conceded, both goals, but to have the determination and the quality to come back and score the two goals that we did is hugely encouraging. Certainly, to win the game would not have flattered us at all, the ball cleared off the line that we should have scored, just after half-time that would have made it 2-1, that was a crucial moment.” 

Possession: 36%

Shots on target: 4

2. Ireland 1-0 Lithuania (friendly)

troy-parrott-scores-the-winning-goal Ireland’s Troy Parrott scores the winning goal Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhin Kelleher; Nathan Collins, John Egan (captain), Dara O’Shea (James McClean, 62′); Matt Doherty; Conor Hourihane, Alan Browne (Jeff Hendrick, 82′); Ryan Manning; Callum Robinson (Scott Hogan, 76′), Chiedozie Ogbene (Jason Knight, 82′); Will Keane (Troy Parrott, 62′) 

Formation: 3-4-3

A less-than-convincing display that was worryingly reminiscent at times of the darker moments of the Kenny era, notably the dropped points against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan. It was only a friendly, of course, and Ireland were a little unlucky not to score more given that they had six shots on target and a couple of goals ruled out. The game was also notable for being Nathan Collins’ full debut — the 21-year-old has played every possible minute of international action since — while the other ostensible big long-term winner was Troy Parrott, who enhanced his reputation with a spectacular late goal after coming off the bench. On the flip side, both Ryan Manning and Will Keane appear to have gone down in Kenny’s estimation since then. Neither player has started an Ireland match since and both were left out of the most recent squad.

What Kenny said afterwards: ”To be fair to the players, the ability to get late goals is a very, very important quality in a team.

“We got late goals against Azerbaijan, Serbia, three against Luxembourg, against Belgium and again today.

“You can’t underestimate the value of persistence, it’s a very important quality in the team and it speaks about the humility of the group, that manifests itself in the ability to keep going.”

Possession: 78%

Shots on target: 6  

3. Armenia 1-0 Ireland (Nations League)

john-egan-dejected Ireland’s John Egan dejected after the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Nathan Collins, Shane Duffy, John Egan; Seamus Coleman (captain) (Will Keane, 80′); Josh Cullen (Alan Browne, 80′), Jeff Hendrick; Enda Stevens (James McClean, 72′); Chiedozie Ogbene, Troy Parrott (Michael Obafemi, 65′); Callum Robinson (Jason Knight, 72′)

Formation: 3-4-3

The match where alarm bells really started to ring and the old doubts returned, after an all-too-brief post-new-contract honeymoon period. The display in Yerevan was up there with the worst of the Kenny era, as Ireland managed just two shots on target against the side currently ranked 92nd in the world. Eduard Spertsyan’s long-distance late winner late on left the Boys in Green stunned and ensured Nations League promotion, which Kenny a few months prior had publicly suggested was an achievable goal, instantaneously became an uphill task. It was especially frustrating as Ireland had seemingly moved beyond these awful results, having achieved convincing wins away to Azerbaijan and Luxembourg towards the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign. It also extended their winless run in the Nations League to 11 games.

What Kenny said afterwards: “Obviously we lost the game, a tight game really overall. It’s not a game that we deserved to lose, you couldn’t say that on the balance of play and chances, but we’ve lost it and we only have ourselves to blame. We are disappointed.

“I felt the last 20-25 minutes of the first half we were really in control but we didn’t start the second half like that at all. We didn’t start the second half like we ended the first. We were susceptible to counter-attacks. We studied Armenia’s last 20 games: they had never played five at the back before, only once against Germany. They always played 4-4-2. We found it difficult to break them down. They didn’t really have any chances bar the offside goal so it’s a disappointing overall.”

Possession: 68%

Shots on target: 2

4. Ireland 0-1 Ukraine (Nations League)

mykola-shaparenk-and-jason-knight Ukraine's Mykola Shaparenk and Jason Knight of Ireland. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Nathan Collins, Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan (Dara O’Shea, 58′); Cyrus Christie (Alan Browne 68′); Jeff Hendrick, Josh Cullen; Enda Stevens (James McClean, 68′); Chiedozie Ogbene (CJ Hamilton, 77′), Callum Robinson (Michael Obafemi, 68′), Jason Knight 

Formation: 3-4-3

In many ways, this match was just as toothless and dispiriting as the Armenia defeat, as Ireland struggled to lay a glove on a second-string Ukraine team who were coming off the back of a morale-crushing loss to Wales that ended their World Cup qualification hopes. Shane Duffy went close with a header late on but it was a largely uninspired display in which Ireland seldom seriously tested their opponents. Yet it proved somewhat of a watershed moment for Kenny, as he made a number of important changes thereafter, both in terms of the personnel and the system.

What Kenny said afterwards: “It’s not easy against the better teams. We probably went a little more direct than I would have liked today, to be honest. The ball went forward a little too quickly I thought at times, we needed to build up better and we will have to address that.

“Both teams pressed each other high, both played the same system. It was man-to-man a lot, Shane [Duffy] went long a lot. Sometimes we got joy from it with Chieo one-on-one, but we are used to building up. Matt Doherty is like a playmaker for us at times, taking the ball against a low block through the midfield. We just have to show a little more composure in our build-up. I can’t fault the players, they gave absolutely everything of themselves out there. We came out on the wrong side of a very narrow defeat.

“I’m just raging we didn’t get at least one win there in the two narrow games. We built up a right momentum and belief. It has set us back but we need to dust ourselves down and go again.”

Possession: 45%

Shots on target: 4

5. Ireland 3-0 Scotland (Nations League)

michael-obafemi-sees-his-shot-go-past-craig-gordon-to-give-his-side-a-3-0-lead Ireland's Michael Obafemi sees his shot go past Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Nathan Collins, Shane Duffy, John Egan (captain); Alan Browne; Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick, 83′); James McClean; Jason Knight (Conor Hourihane, 70′), Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson, 83′); Michael Obafemi (Scott Hogan, 55′)

Formation: 3-1-4-2

Would probably be most people’s choice as the highlight of the Kenny era so far. Ireland rode their luck at times, as Steve Clarke’s side stopped them playing out from the back and missed a couple of gilt-edged chances. But they were well worth the victory overall against an out-of-sorts Scottish team reeling from World Cup qualification failure. Yet the Irish manager made a number of bold calls that he has largely stuck with since. The three-man attack used so often up to that point was ditched in favour of a three-man midfield. Michael Obafemi was handed a first-ever Ireland start, while Troy Parrott was recalled. Jeff Hendrick, Cyrus Christie, Chiedozie Ogbene, Callum Robinson and Enda Stevens all missed out, having started the Ukraine game, while Alan Browne, Jason Knight and Jayson Molumby came in, with the latter two joining Cullen in midfield and the Preston star occupying the somewhat unfamiliar position of right wing-back (though he has played there on occasion at club level). And the sweeping changes paid off, as Ireland registered what Kenny subsequently described as their most significant home victory in seven years (alluding to the 2015 triumph against Bosnia that sealed their place at Euro 2016). It was also a long-awaited first-ever victory for Ireland in the Nations League.

What Kenny said afterwards: “The situation was that we went into this game after having real setbacks this week. We didn’t really concede any chances in the previous two games but we did concede chances today and Scotland didn’t take them. We took ours and capitalised on ours and that was important. Once we got the first goal the crowd really got behind us. They really inspired the players and the players fed off the energy of that. We scored two [more] and could have scored more. Any sort of victory over Scotland is a big win as they have been a terrific team since Steve Clarke was appointed. We are just pleased to get the win.” 

Possession: 43%

Shots on target: 6  

6. Ukraine 1-1 Ireland (Nations League)

nathan-collins-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-first-goal Ireland’s Nathan Collins celebrates scoring. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Darragh Lenihan, Nathan Collins, Dara O’Shea; Alan Browne; Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick, 67′), Jason Knight (Conor Hourihane, 67′); James McClean (captain); Troy Parrott (Chiedozie Ogbene, 80′), Scott Hogan (Callum Robinson, 56′)

Formation: 4-3-3

Another encouraging night overall, as Ireland produced a vastly improved performance compared with their home encounter against Ukraine and despite coming up against a much stronger XI than the one that took to the field in Dublin. It was a night when Nathan Collins confirmed his status as one of the first names on the teamsheet with a brilliant all-round display, the highlight of which was a wonderful solo goal that gave the Boys in Green the lead. If you were to look at this match from a critical viewpoint though, it might be perceived as another game against a strong side in which Ireland let a lead slip and failed to attain three points, just as they did against Portugal and Serbia, and as they would later do versus Scotland. 

What Kenny said afterwards: “Nathan has established himself, he’s caught the imagination. The four games he’s played, he’s been really exceptional in all four games. His decision-making for one so young is excellent and obviously, he’s got a lot of very good attributes and you feel that he’s improving all the time. It was a special goal to score away from home, a very special goal and he deserves huge credit for that.

“Today was a good platform to go and play and we played well — but I want us to be even better than that, I want us to improve again. I think we’re capable of even getting better and the capacity there for improvement is high. I think we can even get better. I can’t fault the players, they were really excellent. Their attitude was brilliant and I can’t really fault the players, they were tremendous.”

Possession: 38%

Shots on target:  3

7. Scotland 2-1 Ireland (Nations League)

scott-mctominay-clashes-jason-knight Scotland’s Scott McTominay clashes Jason Knight of Ireland. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Dara O’Shea, Nathan Collins, John Egan; Matt Doherty (Seamus Coleman, 75′); Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Alan Browne, 75′), Jason Knight; James McClean (Robbie Brady, 80′); Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson, 75′), Michael Obafemi (Chiedozie Ogbene, 60′)

Formation: 3-5-2

Many critics saw this game as a microcosm of the Kenny era. There were plenty of encouraging moments, as Ireland started with seven players aged 23 or under, but it was a disappointing result ultimately. The first 45 minutes was one of the best of the manager’s tenure, as Ireland defended with discipline and counter-attacked menacingly, with John Egan’s well-taken strike seeing them lead at the break. However, in the second half, they could not cope with mounting Scottish pressure. They were also hurt by mistakes at both ends of the field — Ireland could easily have come away with three points had Troy Parrott converted his one-on-one chance in the second half. Instead, they were made to pay for respective defensive mishaps involving Matt Doherty and Alan Browne. A night that had initially looked hugely promising ended in another frustrating defeat. It also left Kenny’s critics pointing to an unimpressive record of just three wins from 20 competitive matches.

What Kenny said afterwards: “I thought we started well. Scotland showed their quality in the midfield area, we weren‘t as cohesive as we were in the first half. We found it difficult to break their press, and we didn’t capitalise enough on two-on-two situations, as we wanted to. We had a lot of good play and a lot of very good play but we didn’t take the chances that we should have.

“I think we showed a lot of composure for a lot of the game. We passed it well and showed a lot of control in the game. Scotland have good players and played well themselves, but away from home, you expect that against good sides. There were sustained attacks for Scotland, there weren’t that many clear-cut chances.”

Possession: 39%

Shots on target:

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8. Ireland 3-2 Armenia (Nations League)

robbie-brady-celebrates-scoring-his-sides-third-goal-with-alan-browne Ireland’s Robbie Brady celebrates scoring his side's third goal with Alan Browne. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Nathan Collins, John Egan (captain), Dara O’Shea; Matt Doherty; Jason Knight (Alan Browne, 75’), Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby (Conor Hourihane, 50’); Robbie Brady; Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson, 75’), Michael Obafemi (Scott Hogan, 85’)

Formation: 3-5-2

One of the weirder nights in recent Irish football history. Ireland were coasting against an Armenia team that looked totally out of sorts. Michael Obafemi’s stunning effort made it 2-0 and the game appeared to be dead for long stretches of the second half. It was almost too easy for the hosts and that is probably what enabled complacency, which more than one player admitted to being guilty of afterwards, to set in. An error-ridden three-minute period saw Kenny’s men punished unduly, with two clinical Armenian goals levelling the game much to the dismay of most of those in the Aviva. Ireland rallied and got out of jail courtesy of a late penalty, but it was an unconvincing performance that ended a decidedly mixed Nations League campaign. The Irish team were at least spared the embarrassment of relegation from their group, but the display left more questions than answers.

What Kenny said afterwards: “We had centre-backs overlapping, we were 2-0 up in game we needed to win. We lost a bit of structure: you must maintain the structure of your back three, and some protection or that as well when you are winning 2-0. We weren’t losing 2-0. We went chasing a third goal and got punished, and we came back and got the winner. Overall it was a really good performance with a few minutes of madness, and it is something we can learn from in terms of taking responsibility of not being exposed when you are winning like that.”

Possession: 66%

Shots on target:

Number of players used by Kenny in last eight games: 27

Caoimhin Kelleher (6 starts), Seamus Coleman (2 starts, 1 sub), Shane Duffy (4 starts), John Egan (7 starts), Matt Doherty (4 starts), Josh Cullen (6 starts), Jeff Hendrick (4 starts, 3 sub), Alan Browne (3 starts, 5 sub), James McClean (4 starts, 3 sub), Ryan Manning (1 start, 1 sub), Chiedozie Ogbene (4 starts, 2 sub), Jason Knight (6 starts, 2 sub), Will Keane (1 start, 2 sub), Callum Robinson (4 starts, 4 sub), Troy Parrott (5 starts, 2 sub), Nathan Collins (7 starts), Dara O’Shea (4 starts, 1 sub), Conor Hourihane (1 start, 3 sub), Scott Hogan (2 starts, 3 sub), Enda Stevens (2 starts), Michael Obafemi (2 starts, 2 sub), Darragh Lenihan (1 start), Cyrus Christie (1 start), CJ Hamilton (1 sub), Jayson Molumby (4 starts), Gavin Bazunu (2 starts), Robbie Brady (1 start, 1 sub)

Number of players used by Kenny overall (from 28 games): 45

Darren Randolph (8 starts), Matt Doherty (22 starts), Shane Duffy (21 starts, 1 sub), John Egan (20 starts), Enda Stevens (11 starts), James McCarthy (2 starts), Robbie Brady (6 starts, 7 sub), Jeff Hendrick (17 starts, 4 sub), Conor Hourihane (10 starts, 9 sub), Callum O’Dowda (3 starts, 2 sub), Callum Robinson (11 starts, 9 sub), Adam Idah (10 starts, 3 sub), Shane Long (2 starts, 4 sub), Aaron Connolly (6 starts), Harry Arter (1 start, 2 subs), Jayson Molumby (11 starts, 5 sub), David McGoldrick (1 start, 1 sub), James McClean (14 starts, 9 sub), Alan Browne (7 starts, 9 sub), Kevin Long (3 starts, 1 sub), Cyrus Christie (3 starts, 3 sub), Daryl Horgan (6 starts, 5 sub), Josh Cullen (16 starts, 3 sub), Sean Maguire (1 start, 2 sub), Dara O’Shea (13 starts, 2 sub), Jason Knight (10 starts, 7 sub), Ronan Curtis (2 starts, 2 sub), Jack Byrne (2 sub), James Collins (3 starts, 7 sub), Ryan Manning (2 start, 4 sub), Troy Parrott (8 starts, 8 sub), Mark Travers (1 start), Seamus Coleman (9 starts, 1 sub), Ciaran Clark (2 starts), Gavin Bazunu (12 starts), Jamie McGrath (4 starts, 2 sub), Caoimhin Kelleher (7 starts, 1 sub), Chiedozie Ogbene (7 starts, 4 sub), Andrew Omobamidele (3 starts, 2 sub), Nathan Collins (7 starts, 1 sub), Will Keane (1 starts, 3 sub), CJ Hamilton (1 sub), Michael Obafemi (2 starts, 2 sub), Scott Hogan (2 starts, 3 sub), Darragh Lenihan (1 start).

Number of players awarded debuts under Kenny: 13

Goalscorers in the last 8 games: Troy Parrott (2), Alan Browne (2), John Egan (2), Michael Obafemi (2), Chiedozie Ogbene (1), Nathan Collins (1), Robbie Brady (1).

Goalscorers overall under Kenny: Callum Robinson (6), Shane Duffy (4), Troy Parrott (4), Chiedozie Ogbene (3), Alan Browne (3), John Egan (3), Michael Obafemi (2), Nathan Collins (1), Robbie Brady (1), James Collins (1), James McClean (1), Daryl Horgan (1), Jason Knight (1), Own goals (1).

Conclusion:

It was always going to be a transitional period for Ireland under Kenny and these last eight games, inconsistent as they were, could turn out to be crucial in the long run.

The switch to three in midfield has worked on the whole. The goalkeeper and back three that ended the campaign appears to be a strong foundation to work off and all aside from John Egan made their debuts under Kenny.

Josh Cullen and Michael Obafemi have also emerged as important players and as it stands, are probably both certain starters if available.

Spurs’ Matt Doherty has made more starts than anyone else under Kenny (just ahead of Shane Duffy and John Egan) and essentially always plays when fit.

The identity of the first-choice left wing-back spot appears less clear-cut. Enda Stevens, James McClean, Ryan Manning and Robbie Brady have all played there in recent times, with varying degrees of success. McClean and Brady both put in decent displays in the latest window and appear the likeliest candidates to compete for the position at present.

In midfield, Jason Knight and Jayson Molumby have generally been preferred of late, though that is an area where Ireland probably have the least depth and most uncertainty. Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick didn’t have the greatest of windows, while Conor Coventry and Will Smallbone may soon come into contention now that they are done with U21 duty. You also can’t rule out players like Mark Sykes and Jamie McGrath who have been out of the picture recently but could well play themselves back into contention if they can put together a good run of form.

Up front, while Obafemi appears to have nailed on one spot at least for the immediate future, the same cannot be said for Troy Parrott, who did not look as sharp in the latest window compared to earlier in the campaign. Yet some decent alternative options have emerged during Kenny’s reign. Ogbene, Hogan and Robinson all are capable of coming in and doing a good job, while the younger likes of Aaron Connolly, Adam Idah and uncapped Evan Ferguson have the potential to compete in the side down the line too.

All in all, Kenny will be less than satisfied with results in the last eight games but appears closer to settling on a starting XI and formation for the matches going forward.

They won’t approach the Euros with any great optimism after an indifferent period, however. In addition, Kenny knows he probably needs to qualify to stay in a job after missing out on two tournaments already.

Yet Ireland and their manager have both traditionally been at their best with their backs against the wall and the pressure at its highest.

While reaching a World Cup will always be difficult, qualifying for the Euros is an eminently achievable target.

Just under 50% of the teams in qualifying will book their place in Germany (24 out of 53), and while the outlook will certainly be influenced by next week’s draw, it’s worth noting that Ireland are highly likely to have a chance of getting in the backdoor route via the playoffs even if they don’t secure one of the top-two spots in their group.

The only thing that’s certain is it won’t be straightforward, with plenty more twists and turns expected over the coming 12 months, as the Boys in Green look to secure what would be just a fourth appearance at the tournament.

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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