Knives sharpen as pressure on Kerr increases

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The Republic of Ireland's manager will probably have to relinquish his post if Cyprus are not defeated tonight and Switzerland are not beaten on Wednesday in Dublin in the final World Cup qualifiers. However, Kerr said: "I don't feel under any extra pressure. I have had the same pressure at every team I have managed since I started managing in 1968."

It hit the wrong note - just as Kerr did two years ago, in Basle, when he claimed that Ireland's must-win match to get to Euro 2004 was no bigger than some of the youth team games he had been in charge of. Ireland lost to the Swiss.

Kerr was 14 when he started to coach Crumlin in the late 1960s and the highest he has risen since is St Patrick's Athletic. If he seriously believes that the pressure is no greater now, he is in need of a reality check.

His words smack of a man who simply does not get it - although he could barely conceal his annoyance yesterday at the questioning over his future.

"I thought we'd come to talk about the game," he snapped and, although it was Kerr who added impetus to the story by stating two weeks ago that he was in the dark over a new contract, he said he did not regret giving that "honest answer".

It's a sign of the pressure, however, and, according to his camp, the agenda to nail him, that a comment from his agent has been seized on with hungry relish. In a radio interview, Fintan Drury claimed that Kerr had suffered "pretty unbalanced treatment" from the media who "appear determined to try and force his destiny".

However Drury also said: "Brian is working with a squad which, although talented in certain respects, is not the most talented of the last 15 to 16 years and he has extracted 13 points from the group so far and we still have two games left."

No one would argue that Drury did anything else than state the truth. But, as Kerr's advisers admitted, it was a woefully injudicious remark given its timing. The reaction is said to have left Drury "devastated". It also put Kerr on the defensive, implying that he was abandoning the players, many of whom he had nurtured. Also, it sounded eerily like the manager's blaming of Mick McCarthy for the failure to qualify for Portugal last year.

Kerr was forced to distance himself from Drury's remarks - "nobody speaks for me, I speak for myself" - adding that he did not "know anyone else's assessment" but believed he had the squad to win the games to reach the play-offs. Kerr has bridled at claims that he is a "lucky" manager but he is wishing for some of that fortune right now.

"It certainly hasn't been for want of effort and graft and commitment to the cause," he said of the campaign. "We have had a few unlucky breaks and we haven't had that slice of luck you sometimes need." In saying that, it is hard to think of games in which the Irish have been unlucky and Kerr added, in what sounded like a valedictory, that he "wouldn't be in any way critical of the players. They have given their best. It hasn't been quite good enough in one or two matches".

It should not be forgotten that Ireland have lost only once in Group Four and Kerr rightly pointed out that if they win their next two then "Bob's your uncle, we're all laughing".

Laughter was in short supply with captain Kenny Cunningham adding to the sombre mood by saying he was "apprehensive" because there was no margin for error. He added "the quality of our football at times has been below what we would expect from ourselves."

Cunningham brushed aside speculation over Kerr by saying: "It's something that Brian and any international manager has to deal with on a week to week basis. Players are pretty selfish creatures. They want to play in a World Cup and that is what drives them on."

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable) ( 4-4-2): Given; Carr (both Newcastle United), Dunne (Manchester City), Cunningham (Birmingham City), O'Shea (Manchester United); Reid (Blackburn Rovers), Kavanagh (Wigan Athletic), Kilbane (Everton), Duff (Chelsea); Elliott (Sunderland), Keane (Tottenham Hotspur).

CYPRUS (probable) ( 4-3-1-2): Panayiotou; Ilia, Lambrou, Louka, Garpozis; Makridis, Michael, Aloneftis; Charalampidis; Okkas, Constantinou.

Referee: V Kassai (Hungary).

Kick-off: 6pm. Live on Sky Sports1 (5.30).