Jeff Hendrick says the Republic of Ireland will fight until the bitter end of a World Cup qualifying campaign which seems destined to end in disappointment.
Ireland lie in fourth place in Group A after Tuesday’s 1-1 home draw with Serbia, a full 11 points adrift of leaders Portugal, nine behind the Serbs and four adrift of Luxembourg with just three games to play.
It would take a remarkable turn of events for Stephen Kenny’s men, who face a trip to Azerbaijan next month and then a double-header against Portugal and Luxembourg in November, to snatch a play-off place, but Hendrick and his team-mates have no intention of throwing in the towel.
The Newcastle midfielder said: “It’s going to be tough now but we approach it positively.
“If you look at Portugal (2-1 loss last Wednesday), we had a gameplan. I think it worked very well. We were minutes away from a very good result. That result improves our confidence.
“It’s a bit late and it’s hard to get something out of this group, but like any Irish team we’ll keep going and give it our all.”
Things might have looked very different had Cristiano Ronaldo’s late double in Faro last week not rescued Portugal, with Ireland leading 1-0 at the Estadio Algarve as the clock ticked towards the final minute of normal time.
It was they who struck at the death both against Azerbaijan three days later when Shane Duffy’s 87th-minute equaliser snatched a 1-1 draw, and against Serbia as Nikola Milenkovic’s own goal four minutes from time cancelled out Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s first-half opener.
Hendrick said: “We want to win every game. I know it’s tough and if you’re being realistic, some of the games are going to be very, very hard to win. But we nearly did it against Portugal.
“[On Tuesday night], we put in a good performance and that is something to build on. We should be looking to go to Azerbaijan and playing like that and trying to get a win.
“It’s definitely doable and something we should be achieving.”
Victory in Baku would end a 16-game wait for a competitive win which dates back to June 2019 – and that came against minnows Gibraltar – with manager Stephen Kenny’s 16-match reign to date having yielded just a single success, a 4-1 friendly defeat of Andorra.
Kenny has made it his mission to overhaul the squad he inherited from Mick McCarthy – seven of the 20 men who tasted action this month were aged 22 or under – and to instil a more progressive approach, and his team remain very much a work in progress.
Hendrick said: “We’re not gifted with hundreds of players who are playing in all of the top leagues. We are what we are. We know the squad we have.
“Players come in and out of it, but everyone comes in with a positive attitude and buys into the group, and we all fight for each other.”