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Bazunu's brilliance earns a draw as Irish fans show they haven't stopped believing

Teenage keeper kept Ireland in the game long enough to nick a dramatic equaliser.

ireland-fans-with-a-sign-in-support-of-stephen-kenny-before-the-game Ireland fans unveiled a banner in support of Stephen Kenny ahead of tonight's 1-1 draw. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

YOU’LL NEVER BEAT the Irish?

You’ll never beat Bazunu.

Well, you will, but it will take something special.

Because the Republic of Ireland number one, still only 19 remember, looks to be a generational talent. And his man-of-the-match display was the primary reason Stephen Kenny’s side were able to salvage a draw with a dramatic comeback.

Bazunu kept Ireland in the fight.

The crowd responded to his efforts and roared on their side for the final quarter.

It was uplifting to witness and, while three points in this World Cup qualifying group remain elusive, this felt like a defiant act of belief in the manager and group of players.

There were plenty of faults and Serbia should have won but the spirit and backing shown was impressive.

Most impressive of all was Bazunu.

stephen-kenny-celebrates-after-the-game-with-goalkeeper-gavin-bazunu Bazunu pulled off a string of saves to keep Ireland in the game after falling behind. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There was a moment just after the 30-minute mark when he received a back pass just to the left of his post on that same side.

A couple of Serbian players split in either direction and, just as you expected the young goalkeeper to lash a clearance to the safety of the stands, he did something different instead.

He put his foot on the ball, dragged it just an inch to the right and opened an angle for a diagonal pass to Matt Doherty at right wing back some 30 or 40 yards away.

The crowd cooed and then applauded as Ireland maintained possession.

But the 19-year-old’s fan club grew even bigger because of three world class saves which denied Aleksandar Mitrovic and Filip Kostic what looked to be certain goals, the last of which was still fresh in the memory when Ireland’s equaliser came after Sergej Milinkovic-Savic lashed a clearance in his own six-yard box off teammate Nikola Milenkovic into the net.

If only they had Bazunu’s composure.

Bazunu had been beaten by Milinkovic-Savic’s 20th-minute header but produced a sensational second-half performance to keep Ireland alive.

And again he used his feet, two minutes apart, both a masterclass in instinct, awareness and positioning.

The first, on 57 minutes, saw him get down low and stretch to deny the Fulham striker’s powerful shot from Filip Djuricic’s pull back.

You could hear the thud of Mitrovic’s shot from the rafters in Lansdowne Road and then another from Bazunu’s powerful reply.

Just over 60 seconds later and the Portsmouth goalkeeper – on loan from Manchester City – again produced a sublime save to frustrate Mitrovic.

This time the ball was in the air as the group’s top goal scorer prodded a volleyed effort towards the near post on the run from a Kostic cross.

There was a rush of blood to the head in the 77th minute when he tried to intercept a through ball only to see substitute Nemanja Radonjic ghost around him.

James McClean bailed the youngster out and it was only fair, Bazunu had already done it enough for his teammates.

And there was still time for one final, crucial near post save as Serbia almost clinched victory on the break as Kostic bore down on goal.

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Bazunu was out quick to block the shot and moments later the Ireland equaliser came.

Another defeat would have only added to the noise surrounding the Ireland manager, even if there will be many raving about the exceptional performance of Bazunu.

The continual claims and counter claims about Kenny’s position, and mission, have been polarising from the moment Mick McCarthy accepted the FAI’s decision (not to mention a €1.13 million exit fee) to stick with the succession plan, in keeping with the original dates, despite Covid-19 wreaking havoc with the schedule.

It meant Kenny took over for the Euro 2020 play-off, which Ireland lost to Slovakia on penalties, and one of the sticks that has been used to beat the manager, and FAI decision-makers, is that McCarthy wasn’t allowed to see the job through.

This argument would hold far more sway – and sympathy – had McCarthy not pocketed such a lucrative pay-off. Or, indeed, agreed to the succession plan in the first place.

This week, Kenny again provided a robust defence of his tenure, citing his plan to build towards Euro 2024, and while the results so far would suggest even that is a step too far, a public show of faith from his employers would be welcome.

That is, of course, if it’s there.

The roars, the songs and the continued support of the home crowd entering the final 10 minutes as Ireland chased an equaliser certainly suggested this is not a public that has given up.

And you never should with Gavin Bazunu as the last line of defence.

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About the author:

David Sneyd

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