Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny has told Evan Ferguson to play without pressure as he attempts to enhance his blossoming reputation on the international stage.
The 19-year-old striker has shaken off a back injury to make himself available for Saturday evening’s final Euro 2024 qualifier against the Netherlands in Amsterdam and the chance to add to his tally of three goals in eight senior appearances for his country.
Ferguson’s presence at the Johan Cruyff Arena, where he played in Brighton’s 2-0 Europa League win over Ajax last week, will excite the travelling support, although Kenny is keen not to place too much weight on his young shoulders.
He said: “It’s important not to expect too much. We’ve to be cognisant of his age. He’s made the breakthrough and played international football at 18.
“He’s just turned 19. He’s got an all-round game and a few goals already for Ireland.
“He was in this stadium last week, of course. He’s been very positive this week, very positive.
“He could easily have pulled out of the squad or opted to pull out having not been available for his club last week.
“He’s here, determined to well and deserves a lot of credit for that. We’re looking forward to it.
“There’ll be no pressure on him tomorrow. We want him to enjoy his football and show his quality.”
Ferguson missed September’s 2-1 home defeat by the Dutch – who would clinch their place at the finals along with leaders France with a win – due to a knee injury and was a frustrated bystander as Cody Gakpo’s penalty and a second goal from substitute Wout Weghorst overhauled Adam Idah’s opener.
That has been the story for much of a disappointing Group B campaign in which Ireland have beaten Gibraltar home and away, but have otherwise failed to pick up a single point.
Asked how much that had affected morale, Preston midfielder Alan Browne said: “Not as much as you might think.
“Given the circumstances, the opposition that we faced, it doesn’t hurt as much. When you try to go toe-to-toe with those teams and you’re not far off, you can take bit of credit, a bit of confidence from that.
“We try to stay as positive as we can. I’m not saying we’re happy to lose games – we’re obviously disappointed after every game we lose, even draws to a certain extent.
“We reflect on those games, we analyse them. When you see it back and see all the positives and the moments that have cost you, you kind of think there’s not an awful lot in it.
“Hopefully – it’s not going to be this campaign, but going into the next and the ones after it – if we can benefit from those performances and change those losses or draws into wins or into draws and keep accumulating as many point as we can, we can find ourselves in a better position.”