Wednesday 18 November, Aviva Stadium, Dublin, 7.45pm


Sky Sports Arena, 7.30pm.  


Liveblog on RTÉ.ie and RTÉ News app from 7pm


Temperatures should be around nine degrees by kick-off with a chance of rain during the second half

Any win will do, but is it hard to judge?

Jack Charlton was eventually able to reach a mantra of "we've got a game to win". Stephen Kenny is stuck at the "we’ve got to win a game" stage.

One must remember why Kenny was hired, apart from John Delaney seeking a double appointment as a deflection from his own work.

In footballing terms, it was to qualify for the World Cup and overhaul a squad that was being kept together despite being passed their best.

There was the bonus for Kenny of a play-off for Euro 2020 that unfortunately saw a good performance end in a defeat on penalties against Slovakia.

Arguably that was better than what Northern Ireland mustered last week. 

It wasn’t supposed to be part of the plan and was a leftover from Mick McCarthy’s failure to record a win over Switzerland, Denmark or away to Georgia.

Martin O’Neill was four years into the job when he began a Nations League campaign that saw Ireland play considerably worse than they are doing now and finish bottom of the table.

The point is similar failings have come before on a repeated basis for two managers. Kenny is at least delivering in terms of bringing new players to the fore. To expect much more now would be somewhat unrealistic.

However, the time is coming for Kenny to deliver something more than new faces. 

Surely we can do better and score a goal?

Much like all the good things in life, they take time, effort and patience. To think Ireland can turn into a team able to pass from defence to midfield and attack and open up the opposition in the space of a few months is not very fair. 

The goal tally from the Euro 2020 qualification campaign under McCarthy speaks volumes.

Seven goals in eight games, three of which came against Gibraltar. The rest: 

  • Conor Hourihane scored directly from a free-kick against Georgia
  • Shane Duffy from a set-piece away to Denmark
  • David McGoldrick from a deflected cross against Switzerland for his only Ireland goal
  • Matt Doherty scored against Denmark when Ireland had seven players in the box as they desperately sought a goal with five minutes left
  • Failure to score away to Switzerland or Georgia

It might be harsh to add additional context to a goal, in particular to McGoldrick, but to quote Roy Keane when talking about Jason McAteer's strike against Holland, there isn't much there "to live off for the next 20 or 30 years".

Ireland certainly can't afford to, nor take the same approach to scoring goals as the past as it just hasn't worked and more chances are needed for our strikers, otherwise many will continue to struggle to find the net. 

It's no surprise goals have failed to flow early in this regime.

Michael O’Neill’s first games with Northern Ireland has previously been used as a reminder that it takes time to bring about a revolution.

He took seven points from 10 matches in his first campaign, with one defeat being away to Luxembourg.

Northern Ireland CEO Patrick Nelson spoke of the early O’Neill days, including one stand out word. 

"There was no question of us making a change after the first campaign because we could see Michael was generating potentially good results." 

Potential is the key. This international window will not be remembered for the results, but for Adam Idah gaining the experience of coming up against strong England team, Dara O’Shea making his name at international level, plus Jayson Molumby and Jason Knight emerging in a midfield that was completely devoid of fresh options.

Kenny will need to deliver more when the first real campaign comes around. Bulgaria is the ideal game to try to bring some hope into it.

13, unlucky for some

"We all have to live with this situation at the moment," said the Ireland boss in relation to Covid-19 taking away so many players and 13 being out in total.

It leaves a vastly inexperienced Ireland squad. Aaron McEneff, Graham Burke and Jack Taylor are mostly present in case further absentees somehow emerge.

James Collins is expected to lead the line with a midfield three of Conor Hourihane, Robbie Brady and Josh Cullen or Jason Knight.

Duffy and Kevin Long are likely to form the partnership in defence, while Kenny may opt to make a change or two at full-back even though O'Shea did well against Wales.

Daryl Horgan has impressed; he and Callum O’Dowda and Ronan Curtis are in the shake-up to play on the wings.

If Ireland need a goal, and they usually do, Sean Maguire and even Troy Parrott could come into the mix. 

What about Bulgaria?

Bulgaria will be without three players for tomorrow's UEFA Nations League fixture against Ireland after they tested positive for Covid-19.

Goalkeeper Hristian Vassilev, left-back Dimitar Velkovski and captain Vasil Bozhikov returned positive samples for the coronavirus after PCR tests conducted on Monday, the Bulgaria FA confirmed, with all three players subsequently pulling out of the squad.

We know they are far from a formidable opponent. The 1-1 draw in Sofia was the only point they secured in the group.

Only a win can get Bulgaria off the bottom of the table so they come to Dublin knowing their task.

On the evidence of what we saw last time out, and the 3-1 win in the Aviva Stadium just over a year ago, there is little to fear.

This will be all about what Ireland do.


What can you read into a game where both sides are hugely depleted and are scraping it out to avoid relegation from a group called B4?

The answer is some.

Kenny will try to win the game using the same tactics, approach and will again find out more about the emerging group of players and their ability to cope with pressure in international football.

If one more player emerges from the pack, like Idah and Molumby, it will be one more to take into next March. That is no bad thing.

It’s unlikely to be free-flowing and joined-up football, but Ireland can do enough to get their manager on the board at last.

Prediction: Ireland 1-0 Bulgaria