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Ireland defeat Crumbs of comfort in Belgrade yet a cruel truth is hard to take for Stephen Kenny

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Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is still looking for his first win after nine games in charge. Image credit: Sportsfile.

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is still looking for his first win after nine games in charge. Image credit: Sportsfile.

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is still looking for his first win after nine games in charge. Image credit: Sportsfile.

We played well, we scored twice away from home in a competitive game, we showed spirit, but we lost.

And that is the cruel truth of Ireland’s first World Cup qualifier as the Boys in Green went down 3-2 against Serbia.

There was no lack of effort, nor no lack of organisation. There was good passing and signs that some of the younger players are learning their trade at this exalted level.

And fair dues to them for implementing a three-at-the-back system with so few training sessions to put it into something that might work on the night. It seemed to work, and yet we conceded three goals. That must be the hard part for manager Stephen Kenny to fathom.

But Ireland’s biggest issue right now is the one that bedevilled the team last autumn, when we couldn’t score a goal at all, which is that Ireland lack the quality and class to break down international defences.

And before you point out that we scored twice, Ireland’s two goals came from, firstly, a long sequence of Irish passing that ended with the Serbian left-back losing his man and, secondly, Serbian sloppiness and Irish graft to get a goal to haul us back into the match.

Never once did we make a killer pass that split the Serbians open, nor could we get one of our players in behind the home defence, the way Serbia did for their first goal, with Dusan Vlahovic turning off the shoulder of Dara O’Shea.

Serbia’s Dusan Tadic showed us how to do it, creating both goals for Alexsander Mitrovic with first a beautifully weighted pass and then a deadly accurate cross. That’s international class.

Now Stephen Kenny has to lift the lads to face Luxembourg on Saturday night at the Aviva. You’d expect Troy Parrott, surprisingly left in the stand for this one, to at least be a substitute as we go goal-hunting against the minnows of the group.

Goal-hunting is something that has never sat well with any Irish football team, but just as Stephen tried out a new formation in this game, maybe he will surprise us with something new again on Saturday night. Kenny hinted at as much in his post-match interview.

It’s another defeat, it’s another skid of a place or two down the world rankings, but it certainly was not the boredom of watching Ireland play last autumn. There could be better days ahead.

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