As the reserve-team manager of Aston Villa, Kevin MacDonald prefers to keep a low profile. As the assistant manager of the Republic of Ireland, he has little choice but to make himself more conspicuous - if only to defend his boss, Steve Staunton, who is enduring a wretched time.

Ireland's 5-2 defeat away to Cyprus three days ago is regarded in some quarters as the national team's worst performance since they drew 0-0 away to Liechtenstein during the Euro 96 qualifying campaign.

Staunton, who distinguished himself in two spells as a defender with Villa, and who played 102 times for Ireland, is not flourishing as the head coach and is feeling the pressure.

Even at this early stage, it is clear that Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the 2008 European Championships are fading fast.

Staunton, aged 37, does not like the spotlight. As a player, he was a prickly character, and he does not seem to relish the extra-curricula responsibilities that come with running a national team.

Anything less than a victory when Ireland play the Czech Republic in Dublin tomorrow will add to the pressure on Staunton. A defeat could make his position untenable. And this after just a few months in the job.

But Staunton is also a bastion of determination and his pride will not allow him to walk away, just because the job is becoming difficult.

"You know Steve as well as I do - he is a very tough bloke," MacDonald said. "It's not unexpected he is getting stick because that's the nature of the beast, with the media the way they are. But he is a tough person.

"He has come through worse things than this, he will come through it again, and he will end up being a very successful manager for the Republic of Ireland."

More than anything, Staunton needs his players to perform against the Czech Republic because even he was embarrassed by the dire display in Cyprus. Now, MacDonald says, is the time for the squad to stand up and be counted.

"When players go through a bad time and are put in a corner they come out fighting and saying 'we're going to prove people wrong'," MacDonald said. "That's why they play professional football, or they are involved in a professional sport.

"For the staff, we've seen it all before, either previously as players ourselves or on the coaching side. So we know what to do to try and build them up, but they also have to get over it themselves because they are the ones out on the pitch."

After a particularly honest meeting on Sunday between the players and coaching staff, MacDonald is now expecting "payback" time. The players owe the manager.

"We called the team meeting to try to clear up one or two issues, and also get the players to open up a little bit," MacDonald said. "I can't say too much about what happened, it was behind closed doors, but it was a very productive meeting.

"The good thing from my point of view was that as I walked out of the door I could see the determination in their eyes to put things right on Wednesday. They feel they've let themselves, their families, the country down, the supporters who travel here, there and everywhere for them.

"The good thing is they have a game on Wednesday against the Czech Republic where they can repay some of those people for everything they've done."

MacDonald will no doubt have told Staunton all about Milan Baros, who is the Czech Republic's most prominent striker. MacDonald and Baros come into contact regularly at Bodymoor Heath, where Aston Villa train on a daily basis.