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Late Duffy header spares Ireland a humiliating defeat to Azerbaijan

It finished 1-1 as fans returned to the Aviva Stadium.

Shane Duffy celebrates his equaliser.
Shane Duffy celebrates his equaliser.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 1

Azerbaijan 1

22 MONTHS and a pandemic later, everybody returned to the Aviva Stadium to find that almost nothing has changed. Shane Duffy is still securing Ireland late 1-1 draws, and this is a team still desperately unsure of who they are and what they are trying to do. 

Kenny’s system and trust in youth begat a first-half that began with promise and ended with his side staring down the barrel of the most disastrous and humiliating defeat on home soil since the last one, as his side allowed Emin Makhmudov beat Gavin Bazunu with a stunning shot from range. 

In the end Duffy’s equaliser was secured at the end of a penalty area siege, but these are no moral victories: Azerbaijan are the group’s dowdy minnows and Ireland are still showing no certified signs of improvement. 

Whatever faint hopes of making the play-offs were held by the blind believers are now truly dead. 

Stephen Kenny frequently mentioned the importance of ‘intensity’ in the Irish play, and Jayson Molumby and James McClean were restored to the starting line-up for that end, with Troy Parrott also returning in place of Jamie McGrath. 

Ireland made a fast start, while Azerbaijan made a false one: kicking off before Ireland had a chance to take a knee. The referee obliged and allowed the Irish players make their gesture as the Azerbaijan players remained standing. 

Kenny also spoke of the importance of making a quick start, and Ireland were true to their manager’s word. It took them eighteen minutes to have a shot against Luxembourg; here they had three within the first 10 minutes.

All three came through attacks down Ireland’s right-flank: Matt Doherty ghosted in at the back of the Azerbaijani defence to head over a floated Egan pass; Adam Idah chased down a ball into the channel and cut back a pass for an Aaron Connolly shot that was ultimately blocked, and then Seamus Coleman cut inside and curled a diffident left-footed shot wide of the far post. 

But the spark and energy of that start seeped mysteriously away, with the tactic of Egan’s switches of play to Doherty snuffed out. Instead, that forced Ireland to attack down their left flank, where attacks congealed and foundered, though Connolly did well at one point to scarper onto an Egan through ball and tee up Idah for a header which the striker flashed wide of the near post. 

From there Ireland grew confoundingly lethargic, with the zip and sizzle of their start wasted away. And nothing captured that better than Ireland’s bewilderingly sleepy end to the half. 

The Irish defence sat off Emin Makhmudov for an eternity, inviting him too try his luck from range. Surely we know too much of Stephen Kenny’s reign to leave anything  to fortune, and so Makhmudov curled a fabulous strike beyond Bazunu’s full-length dive. 

It was eerily similar to the goal conceded against Luxembourg, although this was scored to a palpably different soundtrack; in that moment, a stadium falling dumbly silent is altogether worse than a silent stadium. 

Kenny sent for Daryl Horgan at half-time, replacing Connolly, and he made an instant impact, sending in a cross that Molumby planted over the crossbar with his head.

Ireland upped the pace to a frenzy; Molumby was booked as he launched himself madly into the Azerbaijani goalkeeper. 

James McClean was liberated by the frantic nature of the game, freed from whatever he was told to do in the first half and back to sprinting for the touchline and hanging crosses into the box, but few of them yielded any chances, and most of them were blocked by the first man to have sight of them. 

This is how Ireland have chased games to little success in the past, yet a year and 15 games into Kenny’s reign, everything had reverted to a plan he himself acknowledged has not been working.

stephen-kenny Stephen Kenny expressing how the country felt at 1-0 down. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It took Ireland until the hour mark to register a proper shot on target: Parrott forcing Magomedaliyev into a comfortable save from range.

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Azerbaijan looked shattered from the hour mark, but Ireland kept wasting chances: Duffy headed a fine Robinson cross over the crossbar. Ireland’s profligacy was compounded by an appalling lack of quality. They tried to move Azerbaijan around by switching the play from one wing to other, but lacked the technique to do so: Daryl Horgan shanked two such passes out of play.

Incredibly, it was Azerbaijan who crafted the best chance. Akmedadze waltzed into the penalty area on the counter attack and forcing Bazunu into a terrific, splayed save with his feet. 

Kenny then swapped Doherty for James Collins and abandoned all pretence to modernity by going 4-4-2 and finally, mercifully, it worked, in the time-tarnished tradition: Shane Duffy heading in Josh Cullen’s cross to the back post. 

Kenny leaped to the air, propelled by relief as much as joy. 

The roars rolling from the stands beseeched Ireland to go and win the game: Robinson and his jinking feet came closest, denied at close-range by Magomedailyev. 

There was a smattering of boos as the full-time whistle meant, as fans filed out with ironic comments about turning up to the Serbia game on Tuesday. This is a team still yet to regain the affections of the people they play for, but won’t do so until they figure out who they are themselves. 

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty (James Collins, 80′); Seamus Coleman, Shane Duffy, John Egan; James McClean; Josh Cullen (Alan Browne, 86′), Jayson Molumby (Conor Hourihane, 62′); Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson, 62′), Aaron Connolly (Daryl Horgan HT); Adam Idah 

Azerbaijan:  Shakran Magomedaliyev; Maksim Medvedev (captain) (Abbas Huseynov, 69′); Elvin Badalov, Anton Krivotsyuk, Hojjat Haghverdi; Tural Bayramov (Azer Salahli, 69′); Emin Makhmudov, Gara Garayev, Namik Alaskarov (Rustam Akmedadze, 69′); Filip Ozobic (Anatoly Nuriyev, 79′), Mahir Emreli (Ramil Sheyadaev, 79′)

Referee: Jerome Brisard 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the Aviva Stadium

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