A defiant Stephen Kenny is confident the Republic of Ireland will head into Euro 2024 qualifying a better team for their Nations League relegation battle.
Kenny’s men entertain Armenia in Dublin on Tuesday knowing defeat would condemn them to the drop from League B and the manager to fresh scrutiny of his reign in the wake of Saturday’s defeat in Scotland.
The 50-year-old has overhauled the squad he inherited from predecessor Mick McCarthy in April 2020 and attempted to instil a new brand of football in a team packed with young players.
But positive results have proved difficult to come by, with his 20 competitive matches to date having yielded just three wins.
However, Kenny said: “We can see the emergence of players, and that’s been critical for us as a nation, critical for us as a team.
“You can see players that are only going to get better, that are on an upward curve in their careers and they will only improve when they get into the European Championship qualifiers from March to November next year.
“In a year’s time, they will be even better – you can see that and that’s by design.
🏴 Scotland back on top 📈
— UEFA Nations League (@EURO2024) September 24, 2022
“The players themselves have done that. They have got themselves into the team by their performances at club level and with the international team, so, we are looking to constantly improve.
“We know there are areas we can improve, we are not naive to suggest that isn’t the case.”
Ireland’s hopes of winning League B1 – and a Euro 2024 play-off berth – effectively evaporated when they lost 1-0 in Armenia and at home to Ukraine in their first two fixtures.
But they travelled to Glasgow at the weekend buoyed by an impressive 3-0 win over the Scots at the Aviva Stadium and a 1-1 draw with the Ukrainians in the Polish city of Lodz in June.
John Egan’s early goal boosted their hopes of completing a double, but Jack Hendry’s equaliser and a late penalty from Ryan Christie ensured the points ultimately went to the home side.
Asked about the prospect of relegation – the Republic are a point better off than bottom-of-the-table Armenia – Kenny said: “It’s not something we are focusing on. One of the things we want is to win tomorrow night and we want to play well.
“We saw in our last home game against Scotland, an emphatic 3-0 win. We hadn’t beaten a higher-ranked team like that at home in many years, convincingly or at all. That was important.
“We backed that up with a really good performance against Ukraine and drew, and played quite well on Saturday and were disappointed to lose the game. We want to back that up with a strong performance tomorrow night.”
Kenny, who will be without suspended midfielder Josh Cullen, has indicated he will not make wholesale changes.
But whoever starts, Kenny will be looking for a significant improvement on the performance his team produced against the same opposition in Yerevan.
He said: “That wasn’t a good performance, we know that, so there are lots of aspects of play where we can improve tomorrow night.”