Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny is refusing to take anything for granted after seeing 18-year-old striker Evan Ferguson launch his senior international career in earnest.
The Brighton teenager announced himself in style with a first goal for his country in Wednesday night’s 3-2 friendly victory over Latvia in Dublin.
Ferguson, starting for the first time, and debutant Will Smallbone turned in impressive displays while Mikey Johnston contributed a thrilling cameo as a substitute after swapping the blue of Scotland for the green of Ireland five days before the Republic’s opening Euro 2024 qualifier against France.
But asked if he had seen a glimpse of the future, Kenny said: “It’s never straightforward with players. Injuries can take their toll with young players. The demands are high in the leagues they are in and sometimes that happens.
“What we have now is a high number of players who have come through, unprecedented in our history the number in a short proximity. That has given us depth in our squad.
“Evan, it’s his first start and he got a goal. You can’t predict things in the future. He is still learning the game and he took everything in his stride.
“Will, having watched a lot of Stoke recently, I’m just so impressed with how he has kicked on. He has added other aspects to his game so he has given us something to think about.
“Mikey, that was a snapshot of what Mikey can be.”
Ireland were already leading courtesy of Callum O’Dowda’s diving header – his first goal for his country – when Ferguson’s big moment arrived.
Matt Doherty’s deep cross was recycled by Michael Obafemi beyond the far post and the teenager instinctively stabbed it home via a deflection off defender Antonijs Cernomordijs to spark celebrations on and off the pitch.
However, what looked like developing into a comfortable win took a decidedly ugly turn when to the astonishment of keeper Caoimhin Kelleher, Roberts Uldrikis blasted a 30-yard thunderbolt past him and then in first-half stoppage time, Arturs Zjuzins repeated the dose after his shot clipped Nathan Collins and sped into the net.
Ultimately it was Chiedozie Ogbene who won the day, cashing in after fellow substitute Mikey Johnston’s shot had come back off the post, with 25 minutes remaining.
Kenny said: “Listen, overall I’m pleased with the night’s work. Was it perfect? No. Was it realistic to expect it to be perfect? A lot of players haven’t been playing regularly, some of the players we played needed minutes.
“But obviously France is a completely different game and one that we have to get ready for on Monday. I think that’s a good start to the week, to win, score three goals.
“We’re not euphoric or ecstatic because we know we’ve let in two, but listen, it’s a good start to the week and we’ll take it.”