One other staging submit on Stephen Kenny’s street to redemption

Another international window brings Stephen Kenny another night of reckoning and this time there can be no excuses.

Every game against Ireland this fall has turned into a referendum on the coach’s future, a situation he cannot hide, given the disastrous results.

As Mark Lawrenson noted, his dismissal would not attract much sympathy if a club boss survived such a winless streak – which now spans 12 competitive games.

For the sake of Kenny, more than that of the team, an unfortunate 13th in Baku can no longer be approached on Saturday.

All of FAI’s key decision-makers – Chairman Jonathan Hill, Chairman Roy Barrett, President Gerry McAnaney and Vice President Paul Cooke – traveled with the team to meet with Azerbaijan.

This is a World Cup qualifier but Ireland cannot qualify with three games remaining.

This doomsday scenario became a reality after just two games of the campaign in March, when Luxembourg knocked out Dublin with a deserved victory.

As soon as that mark appeared on his résumé, something special from Kenny was essential for the project to avoid dropping out.

It almost happened on the first day of September in Faro, but it gives almost no results or points.

Games will be won or lost or drawn in over 90 minutes if Ireland wins the next two home games through late equalization against Azerbaijan and Serbia.

Think of Hill’s positive news at the beginning of the campaign.

Nobody blames Kenny for the financial chaos the FAI is in, but he’s part of the solution to turn the ship around by putting together a successful team.

“We have a great story to sell in 2021 because this is a World Cup qualifying year,” said the man, who is set to generate commercial revenue, mostly from getting a sponsor for the men’s team.

“There is no other sports team that can delight the Irish crowd this kind of year. So, do I think we’ll find a sponsor? Of course I do and we will.

“I hope we get 20 or 25,000 players for the games in Azerbaijan and Serbia, because those are the two games we have to win.”

This ambition was never fulfilled.

And between those two most recent outings lay Kenny’s heartfelt manifesto for preservation.

The next European campaign that he has no contract for was the one he had his sights on all along, it turns out.

Anyone who dared to reach Qatar and thus end the 20-year wait for a World Cup odyssey was turned away with a series of rhetorical questions about the strengths of Portugal and Serbia.

Kenny’s problem with untangling his mind was timing.

Since the World Cup qualifying draw last December, he hadn’t tried to dampen expectations once.

The focus of his explorations in his first year was the removal of an inferiority complex from the psyche of the international team. The defense that Kenny inherited from Mick McCarthy was, in his own words, among the “best” in Europe.

That changed on the eve of the visit to Serbia.

Perhaps, as Brian Kerr suggested, Kenny would only introduce his first international experience to the reality he was facing.

In addition, the manager completely missed the point in his admission speech by emphasizing the meager World Cup record of the modern era.

Whether World Cup or European Championship, the desire to fight for a top two place was not imaginative. Formats and the range of possible opponents are identical. The difference is, of course, that one tournament, the EM, grants direct access to the runners-up, while the smaller World Cup requires navigation through a play-off system.

We know all about 2009 and 2017, but it doesn’t change the standard approach of medium-sized nations like Ireland, which is to plant the seeds below and push the two above.

Even his keenest doubters could not have foreseen the depths of the fall.

All sorts of unwanted records have been set and the resulting relegation to 50th place in the FIFA rankings puts Ireland in its worst spot in seven years. Saving third place and Kenny’s employment are just two of the imperatives at the Baku Olympic Stadium.

Since playing against Cyprus in Stephen Staunton’s only season 14 years ago, Ireland have not defeated such a low-profile country in two group matches. Azerbaijan ranks 117th in the world.

It has come to that, and despite all the talk about the transition phase that the FAI accepts, they need to be convinced that Kenny is the best man to oversee a successful completion of the phase.

The lack of an outstanding alternative, along with financial considerations, is the biggest factor the association is grappling with.

Kenny’s path to salvation will depend on Ireland returning to what it is traditionally known for: casting aside lower seeds.

He started the week with a promise not to talk Azerbaijan about a departure from his norm, and there is no scope for slowing down in the event of further downfall.

In contrast to Serbia, which started the arduous journey to Baku after the games against Ireland and Portugal in March, Kenny’s team had a clear entry into the logistically most demanding game.

Covid-19 – well, no cases anyway – did not distract and it is well covered in the defensive area – it lost two injured players. There will be no hiding place in a largely empty Olympic stadium in Baku with 68,000 seats.

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