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Ending goal drought can help Republic retain status

Nations League


Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny

Manager Stephen Kenny will ask the most goal-shy Republic of Ireland squad ever assembled to end the team's dis­mal run in front of goal and secure their Nations League status against Bulgaria tomorrow after Covid-19 wreaked more havoc with his plans.

And new recruit Aaron McEneff, the Derry-born Shamrock Rovers midfielder, says he's thrilled to get a late call-up just two weeks after the paperwork connected to his switch to the Republic from Northern Ireland came through.

McEneff played for all of Northern Ireland's underage sides before switching allegiance to the south.

"I'm glad it went through, it's a very proud moment for myself and for my family," said the 25 year-old.

The Republic - who boast just three international goals among the seven strikers named in Kenny's squad - host Bulgaria tomor­row knowing that defeat would rele­gate Kenny's side to League C in the Nations League, as recent Irish form on a run of seven games without a win has all but cost them a place among the second seeds for next month's World Cup draw.

"There are psychological problems with us, but we are capable of beat­ing Ireland," insists Bulgaria defender Strahil Popov, whose side are ranked 66th in the world, with just two wins in 22 games.

Injury and suspension had already deprived Kenny of 10 players from his 26-man squad but yesterday the FAI confirmed that two more players, Matt Doherty and James McClean, had tested positive for Covid-19, while Adam Idah dropped out of the squad through injury.

An FAI statement insisted that Doherty and McClean did not have any close contacts.

It read: "The players have been isolated from the group as per Covid-19 protocols, and the HSE have been informed of this development."

With six players testing positive for Covid across two international camps, new FAI CEO Jonathan Hill is said to be alarmed at the number of positive tests in the camp and a review of all operations will take place before the next bout of internationals in March.

Shamrock Rovers duo McEneff and Graham Burke were last night called in, with Jack Taylor (Peterborough) and Troy Parrott (Millwall) promoted from the Under-21s.

Belfast Telegraph