Stephen Kenny has warned Scotland his new-look Ireland have yet to hit top gear – and he expects them to be even better than in June’s 3-0 Dublin drubbing.
The Irish will be roared on by a sell-out away support of 2500 at Hampden with thousands more in the city hoping to see their side complete a stunning Nations League double header on Steve Clarke ’s men. And just 14 weeks on from steamrolling the Scots at the Aviva Stadium Kenny is confident his players can repeat the trick.
Despite criticism that followed a woeful World Cup qualifying effort, Ireland have lost only three of their last 16 matches. That run includes draws with Belgium, Portugal and Serbia as well as the 1-1 result in Ukraine on their last run out. And Kenny said: “We are not dwelling on the game in Dublin, this is a different challenge. We went into that game on the back of two losses.
“But we have still had only three defeats in 16. We have played top teams like Belgium and Serbia and gone toe to toe with Portugal. We can see the team evolving.
“Scotland have been very good under Steve Clarke so anything we get we will have to earn it. But we feel we can still improve on our aspects of our performance against Scotland in June.
“We are continually striving to get better and we are not at our full potential. It’s a great occasion with a Hampden full house.
“Scotland had a good win on Wednesday and we respect that, but we have played well in our last few games. This is a new Ireland with a new identity. We have given 16 players their international debut and the style of play is something the Irish public are connecting with.
“We had to suffer with some results in the rebuilding process, but we have sold out the Aviva, 44,000, for Armenia next Tuesday already. That gives you an indication of the support in the country.
“People are excited by the team. This will be our biggest away support since I came in and it will be special.”
Former Celtic defender Shane Duffy has only two Premier League minutes under his belt this season since moving to Fulham from Brighton. But Kenny has no worries about throwing the 55-times capped stopper into the heart of battle at Hampden.
He said: “Shane has been a very important player for us. He has played a high percentage of the games since I have been manager.
“He is revered in Ireland and has been a tremendous player. I’m sure he will get his opportunity at Fulham. It is only seven games into the season. I would have no qualms about playing Shane.”
Ireland need to take six points from their remaining two matches if they’re to have any chance of finishing top – but they’d still require a minor miracle with Ukraine and Scotland meeting on Tuesday night.
Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrot tore Scotland apart in Dublin and the strike duo could well be tasked with firing the Irish to victory. Birmingham forward Scott Hogan is also a man in form as is Rotherham’s Chiedozie Ogbene.
And Kenny said: “Hogan is coming off the back of a hat-trick and Chiedozie is in great form. It is a dilemma as we now have good competition in all areas. But, it would be difficult to leave anyone out of the team who beat Scotland.”