Nathan Collins is confident that decimated Ireland can keep their U21 European Championship challenge on course in Armenia today.
The Stoke City centre-back is one of four players Stephen Kenny has confirmed to debut today in Yerevan.
A combination of injuries, suspensions and Troy Parrott’s promotion to the seniors has left him shorn of eight first-choice players in this first part of this window’s double-header.
Collins, despite being only 18, has been named in two of Mick McCarthy’s provisional squads in recent months without making the final cut but this will be his bow at U21 level. He’s endured a few false starts at international level since bursting onto the scene as a 17-year-old at Stoke last season.
Three Championship appearances in April were followed by him retaining his place in the Potters team for the season opener against QPR.
His club commitments prevented him travelling with Ireland to the U19 Euros in July. By the time Kenny went to fast-track him into the U21s in September, a calf injury had befallen.
Then, after making the trip to Iceland last month, he was told by Kenny to warm up when Conor Masterson shipped an elbow into the face.
Twice Masterson had to leave the pitch in the first half with blood pouring from his nose but he recovered to play on and finish out the 1-0 defeat.
The QPR man’s absence is one of the reasons for an opening being created alongside captain Dara O’Shea today.
“I wanted to go to the Euros in the summer but Stoke wanted to keep me for my first full pre-season with the first team,” he explained.
“I think it worked out well because I was flying at the start of the season. Then, I picked up the injury and got sent-off on my first game back.” That red card at Crawley in the League Cup six weeks ago was his last action. Nathan Jones, who gave him his gateway to the first-team, paid the price for a poor start to the season with his job.
His replacement Michael O’Neill has already made an impression on Collins. The Northern Ireland boss oversaw victory over Barnsley on Saturday to move off the foot of the table.
“The new manager came in the day for the Barnsley game and had a real positive impact in the win,” Collins said.
“On paper, we’ve got the best squad in the league and I believe we’ll get out of trouble.
“It’s up to me to win over the new manager but I feel in good form.”
The debuts handed to goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and fullbacks Thomas O’Connor and Danny McNamara will ensure a new-look defence. Ireland are looking to get back to winning ways after losing their unbeaten record in Reykjavik.
They remain top of the group at midway through their series of games but Italy and Iceland have games in hand. Second place will seal a play-off shot for the 2021 showpiece hosted by Hungary and Slovenia.
“We’re still in a good position,” said Kenny, whose team complete the calendar year by hosting Sweden at Tallaght Stadium next Tuesday.
“There will be a lot of changes in this game but we’ve depth to our squad. Nathan has done well at Stoke this season and will start.”
G Bazunu (Man City); D McNamara (Newport County), D O’Shea (West Brom) - capt, N Collins (Stoke), T O’Connor (Gillingham); J Knight (Derby), C Coventry (West Ham); C Ronan (DAC Dunajská Streda), D Mandroiu (Bohemians), Gavin Kilkenny (Bournemouth); A Idah (Norwich City).