Chiedozie Ogbene has admitted he feels sorry for Stephen Kenny, the under-fire Republic of Ireland manager, after their lingering hopes of Euro 2024 qualification were finally dashed.
Kenny’s reign seemingly reached the point of no return on Friday night when a 2-0 home defeat by Greece left his team with just three points from a possible 18 in Group B and mathematically unable to clinch a place in the top two. Ireland head for Gibraltar on Monday evening with only pride at stake and, while Kenny received assurances last week that he would remain in charge until after next month’s fixtures, discontent with the direction of travel under his charge has reached fever pitch.
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Asked about the manager’s future, the Luton striker Ogbene reflected on early chances which went begging and said: “Had we scored those chances, then the game would be different. We would have been 2-0 up. But we didn’t take those chances and a positive start ends up negatively. I actually feel sorry for the manager. We were not sharp in our decision-making and overall it is disappointing, the result.”
Kenny took over from Mick McCarthy in April 2020 and vowed to shake up the squad he inherited. He has since blooded a new generation of young players and tried to implement a more progressive brand of football. Unfortunately for him, potential has not yielded results and his team have won just five of the 27 competitive games they have played. Four of those victories have come against lower-ranked sides – Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Armenia and Gibraltar – with a Nations League success against Scotland the exception.
Stephen Kenny did not like what he saw as his Republic of Ireland team lost 2-0 at home to Greece. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Qualification from a group which also includes the World Cup runners-up, France, and the Netherlands was always a big task, but five defeats in six games tell their own story. Even a handsome victory over Gibraltar in Faro would do little to quell the negativity surrounding Kenny’s reign, but the Celtic defender Liam Scales, who made his senior international debut against Greece, insists there will be no shortage of motivation.
“Look, it’s never hard to lift yourself to play for your country,” said Scales. “Obviously I’ve only done it once, but the lads will tell you that it’s the best thing you can do as a footballer. As players, we’ll be motivated to go there and put on a performance. As disappointed as we are, it’s playing for the jersey now.
“Obviously qualification is done and that’s that. But we’re playing for the jersey and pride now. We’re all proud to be wearing the jersey and we’ll go to Gibraltar, hopefully get a result and do better.”
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Kenny was keen to steer post-match discussion away from his tenure on Friday night, but said: “Ultimately of course we’re disappointed. We knew it was a group of death, tough games. France, Holland, really tough. We had epic games against both of them. You shouldn’t be losing at home to Greece. They are a good team, better than people think they are, technically very good with good qualities. We needed to win tonight, I know that.”