Matt Doherty has urged the Republic of Ireland to soothe the bitter disappointment inflicted upon them by Cristiano Ronaldo by finally opening their World Cup qualifying account against Azerbaijan.
Ireland host the Azeris at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday evening having seen a famous victory wrestled from their grasp in Portugal on Wednesday night when the 36-year-old Manchester United superstar scored twice at the death to overturn a 1-0 deficit just when it was starting to look decisive.
Neither side has yet registered a single Group A point, but Doherty saw enough in Faro to believe manager Stephen Kenny’s methods are starting to pay dividends.
The Tottenham full-back said: “Even though we lost the game, we should be going in with confidence. Everyone played a really good game, everyone’s confidence should be sky-high.
“Obviously we would feel extremely good if we had held out, but that’s not the case and it’s gone now.
“We need to get a win anyway to get into the group. We know we’re going in the right direction in terms of performance, but we’re here to win games.
“We didn’t manage to do that (in Portugal), but Azerbaijan is the next game and we need three points to get up and running.”
Ireland turned in arguably their best performance under Kenny to date in the 14th game of his reign at the Estadio Algarve and led a team ranked eighth in the world by FIFA until the 89th-minute.
Doherty, who called for players to stand up and be counted after a comprehensive 3-0 friendly defeat by England at Wembley in November last year, has seen a significant improvement since, although he admits the sting of a defeat – which for so long looked like being a victory – still hurts.
He said: “When you are sitting in your room at night, you do think about it and we had five minutes to hold out.
“I guess the worst thing is that we actually lost. It’s OK for them to score, but you still think that, ‘OK, we drew, that’s fine, they scored at the end’. But to concede twice does hurt a lot.”
Kenny’s task is to ensure there is no repeat of the hangover which afflicted his team back in March when, three days after losing 3-2 in Serbia after another promising display, they were humbled 1-0 by Luxembourg on their own pitch.
The manager, who will send his team out in front of home fans for the first time still looking for his maiden competitive victory, said: “That was certainly part of our learning. We got to such a level against Serbia that for some players who had not being playing regularly – or not playing at all, really – to go again three days later and get to that level was difficult.
“It is something that we are cognisant of and we just have to make sure we are right.”
Kenny, who has lost defenders Dara O’Shea and Nathan Collins to injury, has drafted Celtic defender Liam Scales, Preston midfielder Alan Browne and West Brom striker Callum Robinson, after his recovery from a second bout of Covid-19, into the squad for a game in which defeat is unthinkable if any hope of qualification is to remain alive.
However, he said: “There’s no reason for me to think like that.
“We can see the team evolve and progress and we know we want to go and perform well and show our quality and put in a really strong display and hopefully get the victory we need.
“There’s no point on me reflecting on ‘what if’ and wondering. We have to be positive and try to go to win.”