Late Brady penalty spares Ireland humiliating draw with Armenia

Ireland blew a 2-0 lead but ultimately prevailed 3-2 at the Aviva Stadium.

Robbie Brady celebrates his winning goal.
Robbie Brady celebrates his winning goal.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 3

Armenia 2

AN IRISH WIN that enthralled and enraged and encouraged and disheartened and ultimately proved nothing. 

This team have at least found new and enterprising ways of having the same conversation. 

This was a stress-free Nations League saunter until it wasn’t; dozy comfort begetting 20 minutes of sweaty chaos that first plunged Stephen Kenny’s job prospects into doubt and then hauled them back onto firmer ground. Ireland surrendered a two-goal lead in the space of three lamentable second-half minutes to a ragged Armenia only to be rescued by Robbie Brady’s 90th-minute penalty, awarded after a video review encouraged by the VAR official Matej Jug, who grievance-watchers will remember as the referee from Ireland’s 2-1 loss in Portugal last year. Consider that debt repaid.

Tonight Armenia were the angry party, having two players sent off for crazed recriminations after the penalty was awarded. They will be further annoyed that Jayson Molumby didn’t see red at the start of the second-half. 

The enormous sense of relief breathed at full time won’t fully blow away the ambient doubts around Stephen Kenny, though. Instead the blowing of a lead exposes a brittleness to this side’s structure and belief and we now head for a fourth year of open debate as to the manager’s suitability for his role. 

Ireland opened the scoring in traditional fashion – from a corner – but they are at least winning them in interesting ways. Nathan Collins strode forward and fed the ball down for Matt Doherty who serpented into the penalty area and popped a square pass for Jason Knight, whose first-time shot was blocked behind for the corner from which John Egan headed Ireland in front for the second game running. 

Robbie Brady was preferred to James McClean at left wing-back for the quality of that delivery. An earlier corner might have yielded the opening goal: Dara O’Shea directed Brady’s cross back toward the six-yard box where Egan stooped and glanced his header just wide. A set-piece was Ireland’s likeliest way of gouging out an opening goal, as Armenia picked a back five and squatted on they edge of their own area. Ireland jabbed and jabbed without forcing many openings, with Jeff Hendrick – restored to the team in place of the suspended Josh Cullen -  either to be admired for attempting more penetrative through-passes or criticised for miscuing so many of them. 

Ireland by no means had their foot on Armenia’s throat after going ahead; instead they held them at arms’ length, palm pressed on their forehead, easily avoiding their frantic, windmilling arms. Their comfort was summed up by Collins’ insouciantly knocking an Armenian player off the ball and giving him a withering look as the referee waved play on. Comfortable as they were, they might have done more to double their lead before half-time. Their best chances came from out wide: Brady’s back-post cross was met by Doherty’s volley but then a defensive block, while Doherty later found himself challenging the goalkeeper when Hendrick dropped into his position and swung in a gorgeous cross. Brady’s follow-up volley was blocked.

Hendrick was restored to the team with Josh Cullen suspended but it was Jayson Molumby who dropped back to play Cullen’s deep-lying role. 

Molumby started very well, briskly spraying passes left and right while leaping to challenges to break up play, but picked the yellow he card he often risked for catching Lucas Zelaryan high on the half-hour mark. Molumby got lucky two minutes after the second half when Obafemi’s bad touch lost possession and he foolishly pulled down Artak Grigoryan. The referee seemed initially to reach for his pocket, before for some reason giving Molumby a reprieve he didn’t deserve. He was substituted three minutes later.

Conor Hourihane jogged onto the pitch to immediately get a perfect view of Obafemi’s latest boom-missile. Dara O’Shea ignored a roar of ‘TIME!’ to play a first-time pass into Obafemi’s feet, and this time his touch was perfect: flicking the ball to the right to set up a shot the entire ground roared for him to take. He duly obliged, firing low this time, into the bottom corner from a very similar position to his goal against Scotland. 

Ireland again settled into a position of bloodless control, utterly untested defensively without threatening to kill the game. And perhaps they lulled themselves into a false sense of security as they collapsed in the space of three minutes. Ireland were caught out of position on an Armenian goal kick and sliced open, allowing substitute Vahan Bichakhchyan cut inside and accelerate towards goal. His curling shot was tipped onto the post by Bazunu but Ireland were unforgivably slow to the rebound, allowing Artak Dashyan rifle a shot beyond Bazunu from outside the box. 

Ireland have a truly baffling habit of conceding long-range goals against weaker opponents – Luxembourg, Azerbaijan, and Armenia have all profited in exactly that way – and unfathomably they did it again a minute later. Hourihane played an appalling square pass across midfield right across to Eduard Spertsyan who – you guessed it – shot beyond Bazunu from distance. The goalkeeper should have saved it – he got a timid hand to it. 

conor-hourihane-reacts-after-his-side-conceded-a-goal Conor Hourihane reacts to the Armenian equaliser. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

There were grumblings and jeers from the parts of the crowd not utterly stupefied. Ireland responded by winning a free-kick which Brady planted on the head of Collins: the goalkeeper saved it but Hourihane fired over the crossbar.  

Ireland laid siege and ultimately Matej Jug runneth over.

Two minutes from time O’Shea’s penalty-box shot from close range was blocked by Dashyan’s dangling arm, and just as Ireland were punished in Hampden, they profited here. Armenia lost all sense of control, with referee Rade Obrenovic sending off both Hovhannes Hambartsumyan and Dashyan for their protests.

Brady kept his cool, rolled the ball beyond David Yurchenko, and his roars were carried into the night sky, soon to be followed by the heat of another round of infernal debate about Stephen Kenny. 

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Nathan Collins, John Egan (captain), Dara O’Shea; Matt Doherty; Jason Knight (Alan Browne, 75’), Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby (Conor Hourihane, 50’); Robbie Brady; Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson, 75’), Michael Obafemi (Scott Hogan, 85’)

Armenia: David Yurchenko; Hovhannes Hambartsumyan, Hrayr Mkoyan (Taron Voskanyan, 59’), Varazdat Haroyan (captain), Andre Calisir (Karen Muradyan, 82’); Jordy Monroy (Taron Voskanyan, 59’); Artak Grigoryan, Eduard Spertsyan, Khoren Bayramyan (Zhirayr Shaghoyan,, 81’); Tigran Barseghyan, Lucas Zelarayan (Vahan Bichakhchyan, 68’)

Referee: Rade Obrenovic 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the Aviva Stadium

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