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How 23 seconds of apathy was catalyst for a fragile Ireland meltdown

Examining the build-up to a reckless two-minute spell that has raised yet more questions about this side.

Conor Hourihane's wasteful cross started Ireland's series of errors.
Conor Hourihane's wasteful cross started Ireland's series of errors.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

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THE MADNESS BEGAN with 70 minutes and 14 seconds on the clock.

One bad decision was the catalyst for a catalogue of errors over the following 23 seconds.

All the damage was of Ireland’s own doing.

Poor choices, tired minds and lackadaisical application.

In the immediate aftermath of what eventually turned out to be a frenetic 3-2 win over Armenia, Stephen Kenny sought to explain the reasoning behind a two-minute spell which saw the visitors score twice.

“We had centre-backs overlapping, we were 2-0 up in a game we needed to win. We lost a bit of structure: you must maintain your structure of your back three, and some protection or that as well when you are winning 2-0. We weren’t losing 2-0.

“We went chasing a third goal and got punished, and we came back and got the winner. Overall it was a really good performance with a few minutes of madness, and it is something we can learn from in terms of taking responsibility of not being exposed when you are winning like that.”

It will not be difficult to pin-point where it all began, and perhaps Kenny’s assertion about overlapping centre backs related to Nathan Collins driving forward in the moments prior to that first Armenian goal.

However, it did not seem especially reckless, given he ensured Ireland retained possession by laying off for Jeff Hendrick. But maybe that was an indication of the home side becoming complacent against an opponent who began time-wasting in the fifth minute and seemed content with a 2-0 defeat.

How else could you explain the 23 seconds that led to Armenia’s opener? Identifying what went wrong for the catastrophic second soon after, when Conor Hourihane played a careless pass across the face of his own goal which was easily cut out, will be quick to decipher.

Of more concern will be the number of players guilty of apathy and the ease with which Ireland were punished for the first.

It began with bad decision making in possession from Hourihane, followed by a general lack of sensing danger.

Robbie Brady has set a pass back to Hourihane, with the left wing back carrying on his run to create space. 

The midfielder has already opted to play a first-time pass, but instead of going inside to Jeff Hendrick, who could then feed Jason Knight on the corner of the box with Brady’s run then offering him a simple pass, the Derby man chooses to play a cross into the box, where Troy Parrott is in an offside position – not to mention the only Ireland player inside the area. 

Almost as soon as Armenia goalkeeper David Yurchenko collects the cross, he is positive by pointing to Eduard Spertsyan where he wants to play his throw. A tired Michael Obafemi has slumped somewhat and Spertsyan has gone on the move.

Ireland are in trouble, but still have time to recover. Jeff Hendrick is caught on his toes and points to the covering midfielders to help stop the break. 

IRLARM1

Hendrick does his best to track the run of Spertsyan but Hourihane seems flat-footed. Out of picture, Nathan Collins is drawn from position to try and close the Armenian down, but he is able to play his pass forward, and this is where the second part of Ireland’s defensive failings were evident.

IRLARM2

This is worrying on a number of levels. After Vahan Bichakhchyan receives the pass from Spertsyan he can run at the Ireland defence in an instant. He chooses to get a shot away from distance but could even have tried to slide in Tigran Barseghyan (11) who has so much space.

Matt Doherty is retreating, too, and eventual goal scorer Styopa Mkrtchyan (21) is a further 10 or so yards back coming into screen. Yet he is the one who eventually puts the ball in the net after Gavin Bazunu pushes the initial shot onto the post.

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But how?

IRLARM3

While Nathan Collins reacts, he can only half clear the danger. Doherty has not yet managed to retreat closer to the box and appears to be somewhat unaware of his surroundings, as can be seen below. 

As the ball breaks close to Doherty on the edge of the area, it is only then that he reacts. Mkrtchyan is entering the picture and has already read the possibility of the chance, and his anticipation will be rewarded.

IRLARM4

Despite having a considerable head start throughout every part of the counter attack, Doherty cannot recover in time to prevent the shot from the edge of the box. It was the final bit of sloppy play Ireland in the sequence, beginning with Hourihane’s decision to cross into the box and the inability to then prevent a simple attack through the heart of midfield.

IRLARM5

Ireland are a team that will be punished for making just one mistake, when they add up like this it is a habit that needs to be stamped out quickly.

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