Ireland's final UEFA Nations League group game of the current campaign may not be a must-win match, however, it is certainly firmly placed in the category of must-score. 

It has been six scoreless games in a row for Stephen Kenny’s side, who last hit the net in the manager’s first game in charge back in September in their hard-fought 1-1 draw in Sofia. 

And now it’s back to Bulgaria as Kenny completes his maiden campaign as Ireland manager with the return game against the eastern European side, in what has turned out to be a relegation battle. 

Should Ireland avoid defeat they will send the visitors down to League C of the Nations League and maintain their status as a bona fide League B outfit for whenever the next edition of this slow-burning UEFA invention comes around.

In between Bulgaria ties, Ireland made their exit from Euro 2020 contention, defeated on penalties in Slovakia, while also losing three times in four games, twice to Finland and once to Wales, all by the narrowest of margins. 

A well-earned point at home to Wales amidst the height of Ireland's Covid crisis is what separates Ireland and Bulgaria going into this final encounter. As it happens, Wales and Finland will play off for top spot as a point separates those two teams going into the final round of games. 

Defeat for Ireland would see them relegated and the manager admitted that despite all the distractions of the coronavirus, which hampered his selection throughout, it would still upset him if his side were demoted. 

"I have to be honest I would be [disappointed] so that's important that doesn't happen for us," said Kenny.

"I think we have to go and put it into performance. We have a lot of young players coming in and, you know, some other players coming back into the team. So we've got to dig in, be resolute and make sure that we get a result." 

The manager may only have one injury to contend with going into tonight’s game (Callum O'Dowda's dead leg), however, a quick glance at the squad that is available for the game shows it is a far cry from the one that he took to Bratislava for last month’s Euro 2020 play-off. 

Darren Randolph and Shane Duffy are the only two players who are available that have played all seven games for the new manager, as Matt Doherty is ruled out ,having tested positive for coronavirus. 

The goalkeeper has been an ever-present for the new manager

Robbie Brady has featured in every game and is starting to emerge as a firm favourite of the manager and will surely line out in Wednesday evening's game. 

Jeff Hendrick and Jayson Molumby are both suspended while James McClean (Covid) and Adam Idah (injured) are two more players that have gone from the squad since the defeat in Cardiff on Sunday. 

Once again, the manager will look to pick the strongest side available to him and will, at least, be confident with his defensive options as Kevin Long and Dara O’Shea will surely resume in the back four alongside Duffy following decent showings against Wales. 

Cyrus Christie will most likely come back into the team and play in Doherty’s right-back position, however, the manager has room to manoeuvre if he wants to look at Ciaran Clark, Darragh Lenihan or Ryan Manning. 

The midfield unit is an area where Kenny may mix things up a bit, and he could ask Josh Cullen to sit in the holding position to take advantage of his strong forward passing and ability to hold onto the ball. 

Conor Hourihane will most likely start again in the middle three and Kenny may look at either Jason Knight or Jack Byrne to make up the trio. 

Brady’s role in the team will determine the make-up of the midfield unit, as there is a chance that he may be asked to play in a more advanced role if Callum O’Dowda is not passed fit.

Daryl Horgan has been one of the positive stories so far during Kenny’s reign as the Wycombe Wanderers man was not even in Kenny’s initial squad back in September, but has grabbed his opportunity once presented. 

 Daryl Horgan has been lively since returning to the side

Horgan looked brilliant in the opening exchanges against England and was very lively in the first half against Wales. However, the former Dundalk winger did fade out of both games a little and it remains to be seen if Kenny will start him for the third game in a week. 

But with goals being the priority going into this game, it looks almost certain that James Collins will be given the nod to lead the line, based on his impressive substitute appearance against Wales and the fact that Adam Idah has been ruled out through injury. 

Collins created several goalscoring opportunities in Cardiff and with a bit more composure and belief he could have got a late equaliser. 

Another who was overlooked in the early games of the Kenny regime, Collins’ cameo in Cardiff will have shown the manager that a powerful centre-forward can occupy the opposition and open space for the ball-players to work and create. 

Collins is probably the best option to actually put the ball in the back of the net given his form this season in front of goal for Luton and should Ireland continue to create chances, as they have in most games, then the big man should match what he did in his last appearance against Bulgaria and score.

"James has scored some goals for Luton this year and was obviously very important in getting them promoted from League One to the Championship and keeping them up last season," said Kenny. 

"He is a different type of striker to what we have." 

That Bulgaria match was a friendly encounter during the last days of the Mick McCarthy regime, and if the manager was looking for goalscoring form, that game was one of only two where Ireland have scored three times over the past three years. 

Another man who made a huge impact that night was Shamrock Rovers playmaker Jack Byrne who, like Collins, came on for the final 30 minutes and played a role in two goals. 

Byrne was handed his first appearance under Kenny in Cardiff, coming on for the last ten minutes and making an impact going forward. However, it may prove a big leap of faith for the manager to ask the young Dubliner to run the show tonight. 

"We do want to convert more chances, that's for sure. There's no doubt about that," said Kenny, speaking at the pre-match press conference. 

And looking ahead to the game, the manager believes that Bulgaria will prove a tough test and feels that like Ireland, they have not got just reward for their performances thus far. 

"Bulgaria missed a penalty to draw 2-2 with Finland, they played quite well against Finland. Obviously they lost in the 90th minute to Wales as well, so they have improved a lot and are well drilled and they have been more expansive in recent matches than they were previously.

"It’s a tough game. So we’ll have to step up and have a good overall performance and try to get that win that we need." 

Bulgaria caused Ireland problems in defence in the first meeting between the two sides. However, Ireland’s back four have been a lot more cohesive since that first game where Kenny’s side played a particularly high line. 

Burke, Byrne, McEneff - the Shamrock Rovers trio are in the squad for tonight's game

Despite the recent run of results, lack of goals and depleted squad, Ireland will still be confident of getting a result at home in this fixture, and as a back-up plan, the manager has several attacking options on the bench if needs be. 

An interesting addendum to the Ireland squad was the inclusion of Shamrock Rovers pair Graham Burke and Aaron McEneff, who were called up on Monday, while the manager revealed that Dundalk's Michael Duffy would also have been added only for issues with his FIFA clearance. 

Derry native McEneff is an attack-minded central midfielder with an eye for a pass and for goal, while Burke can play in a range of positions with the added benefit that he has already scored for Ireland, in a friendly clash with the USA in 2018 – the Rovers frontman also hit five in a game against Cork City earlier this season. 

"McEneff has had a very good season," said Kenny. "He has done well at Shamrock Rovers and before that at Derry City, but obviously he has been very consistent this year at Shamrock Rovers. Graham Burke’s versatility certainly suggests that he can make an impact. 

"I would have called up Michael Duffy from Dundalk as well except that there's an issue with his paperwork at FIFA." 

And if all else fails, expect top striking prospect Troy Parrott to be thrown on late in the game. 

The young striker was in Kenny’s first squad but injury has prevented him from getting a look at the senior side.

On loan at Millwall from Spurs, Parrott returned with the Under-21s on Sunday and the manager said that his fitness stats show that he can certainly justify putting him on the bench for tonight’s encounter. 

A long wait until Ireland’s next game as the 2020 calendar comes to a close, and should Ireland fail to fire under the Lansdowne lights, a ponderous few months await before the World Cup qualifiers get going in March.