Manager Stephen Kenny is under pressure ahead of Republic of Ireland's trip to Azerbaijan on Saturday and Daniel McDonnell doesn't expect things to be easy for the visitors...
"If the application that Ireland brought into the Serbian and Portugese away days is replicated here then Kenny's men are more than capable of prevailing."
Azerbaijan v Republic of Ireland
Live on Sky Sports Football
Any punters who have strongly backed Stephen Kenny's Ireland to win games in this World Cup qualifying campaign will likely be looking elsewhere this Saturday. Fingers have been burned already. A return of two points from five matches tells its own tale.
Indeed, the manager is still searching for a first competitive victory when last year's Euro playoffs and UEFA Nations League matches are taken into account. He is under pressure heading into Saturday's meeting with Azerbaijan because of this damning statistic.
Kenny running out of wiggle room
While there is a broader understanding that Kenny has inherited a difficult job, with repeated Covid complications adding a layer of bad luck to a rebuilding mission centred around young players, results have proved far harder to come by than anticipated.
His team have fared better against decent opposition, suffering narrow defeats away to Serbia and Portugal with a late Cristiano Ronaldo brace in the latter encounter turning what looked set to be a famous victory into an agonising reverse.
There is an understanding applied to those situations but it's a different story with the home loss to Luxembourg in March and last month's Dublin draw with Azerbaijan, a point that was only achieved by a late Shane Duffy leveller.
Dropped points in those fixtures have emptied credit from the bank and removed wiggle room.
With a full return from the home matches, there might be a degree of sympathy if an inexperienced team weren't able to do the job on foreign soil - even against a fifth seed ranked 117 in the world.
But now, Kenny's team really need a victory on their travels to help keep him in the job.
No excuses for Ireland
There's reasons to believe they are capable of doing it and the odds of 2.265/4 really do hold appeal in the circumstances.
They are tied in with the view there will be no excuses if they fall short.
Firstly, Ireland's preparations for this fixture are a luxury compared with previous windows.
Previously, big matches have taken place on the Wednesday after a Sunday/Monday gathering with the window for work limited. This time around, Ireland convened on Monday for a Saturday fixture with a long flight the only inconvenience.
Ironically enough, the issue with the quick turnaround in the Kenny era has actually been managing triple headers where all games are of equal importance but the first encounter has drained energy.
The aforementioned slogs against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan came three days after away losses to Serbia and Portugal respectively.
A failure to match the intensity was punished.
This time around, all of the focus is on Azerbaijan with the follow-up friendly against Qatar paling into insignificance.
If the application that was brought into the Serbian and Portugese away days is replicated here then they are more than capable of prevailing.
And if Ireland break the deadlock - as they did in Belgrade and Faro - they should be able to capitalise on the situation. If anything, it would draw a conservative Azerbaijan side out of their shell and create more chances if the killer instinct is present.
Admittedly, the unavailability of skipper Seamus Coleman is a blow. However, the revitalised Shane Duffy adds steel to defence and Ireland should have the strength to cope with the local threat in that department.
At the other end, Kenny has a fully fit Callum Robinson available - although his comments on refusing the Covid vaccine have generated unwelcome attention - while Derby's Jason Knight and Rotherham's Chiedozie Ogbene return along with Sheffield United's Enda Stevens.
Knight will add box to box energy and Ogbene is a quick winger that is ideally suited to away games. Ireland were slow and laboured in the first ever meeting between these nations, but they really should be operating at a higher tempo here and pulling Azerbaijan out of shape.
Players have raved about the training ground work under this regime but bringing it to the pitch would be the strongest vote of confidence. This might just be the time it happens
Goal markets offer appealing alternatives
If backing Ireland to prevail is a bridge too far after previous experiences - and that's an understandable take - then perhaps look at the goal markets for something different.
Traders are clearly expecting a low scoring affair and it would be ambitious to predict a high scoring affair to buck trends.
For a speculative play, Matt Doherty at 10.09/1 as an anytime goalscorer or 18.017/1 to score first is worth exploring.
Azerbaijan struggled on the right side in Dublin when Ireland moved the ball quickly and while it could be argued that they shut down the threat and will have their homework done this time around, the return of Stevens and Robinson's likely inclusion on the left side of the attack will occupy the hosts in that department.
Doherty's ability to time his runs into the box and get on the end of crosses make him one of the more viable threats for this type of fixture. Robinson is the other player in mind while Duffy will also have his followers from a set piece perspective but Doherty is the small stakes play.
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