Callum Robinson celebrates his opening goal. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
jab done

Callum Robinson stars in Baku to secure Kenny a first competitive win

Robinson scored twice in a 3-0 win against Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan 0

Republic of Ireland 3

CALLUM ROBINSON BEGAN the week by attracting the attention of the world and ended it by bending this game entirely to his will.

Robinson’s two goals in the first half smoothed over an uneven Irish performance, and he did his best to seal his hat-trick in the final minutes: left centimetres from getting enough contact on Chiedozie Ogbene’s header to claim the third goal. 

And so Stephen Kenny has his first competitive win in charge of Ireland. 

That it was secured in a near-empty bowl on the edge of Europe by a forward who spent a week as the avatar for a worldwide argument over a vaccine that can end a once-in-a-century pandemic… well, he was never going to do things the old-fashioned way, was he? 

It would be ignorant of history to say any Irish goalscorer is predictable — Ireland generally don’t really score goals — but that it was Robinson neatly bookended a week of raging controversy. 

Seven minutes in, James McClean showed a more cerebral side to take a Josh Cullen pass, check to shuffle the ball onto his left foot, and slide a clever pass forward for Robinson on the edge of the penalty area. 

Here Robinson took his shot with no hesitancy: it flew into the top corner and he ran to the couple of hundred Irish fans squeezed into the corner of the stand and plugged his fingers in his ears. It was a fabulous strike and Ireland deserved the lead, as they started quickly with Cullen and Jeff Hendrick aggressive and assertive in midfield. 

And yet Ireland’s authority in possession vanished almost instantly after scoring. They fell deep and ceded the ball to Azerbaijan. They could only fashion half-chances, with centre-half Hojjat Haghverdi twice heading wide from a promising position in the Irish penalty area.

Ireland grew tetchy with themselves. Gavin Bazunu roared at his defenders when Haghverdi was allowed head over a second time; Shane Duffy screamed at those around him to push higher. 

They were imprecise and sloppy in possession, too: Daryl Horgan’s clumsy lay-off for McClean turned a terrific counter-attack chance for Ireland into a terrific, last-ditch tackle by John Egan. 

Robinson, however, has the individual quality to obscure collective mishaps. He was unfortunate to see an acrobatic volley float narrowly over the crossbar, but seven minutes before half time, he proved wasn’t to be twice denied. 

Collecting a Horgan pass, Robinson jinked inside and curled a shot into Shakhrudin Magomedalieyv’s bottom left-hand corner. 

irish-fans-celebrate-callum-robinsons-second-goal Irish fans celebrate Robinson's second goal. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Earlier this year he scored twice against Chelsea and now he has repeated the trick against Azerbaijan: we can now say beyond doubt that Callum Robinson loves playing against sides bankrolled by former Soviet oligarchs.

His second goal meant Ireland led by more than a goal in a competitive game under Kenny for the first time and it ironically came in the poorest first-half performance away from home in the group so far. But hey… it’s a results business. 

The second-half began with a flurry of missed chances for Robinson to seal his hat-trick. He linked up tidily with Matt Doherty but shot right at Magomedalieyv, steered an Ogbene pull-back wide of the near post, and then planted a header from the six-yard box over the bar. 

He was central to everything Ireland did well, and if he wasn’t finishing chances he was creating them. A delicate flick sent McClean sprinting clear on goal – a lung-bursting run thwarted by a last-ditch block – and an inch-perfect cross should have been headed the right side of the post by Duffy. 

Ireland did have to briefly reckon with the potential horrors of their profligacy. Bazunu tipped over a stinging drive from distance by Abbas Huseynov and the VAR official deemed Doherty’s clearance of the corner worthy of a second look. The referee checked a potential handball, but decided Doherty only jutted his arm into the air as he himself was fouled. 

Bazunu soon had to come to Ireland’s rescue again, contorting himself mid-air to push a rasping drive from Gara Garayev onto the crossbar. Robinson, meanwhile, missed yet another chance for his hat-trick by heading tamely at Magomedaliyev, and as the clock ticked into the final minute, he tried to prod Ogbene’s header in from yard out. 

He missed and Ogbene was mobbed in celebration, and Robinson was substituted to the echoey raptures of the 220 Irish fans squeezed bewilderingly into a stadium about 3% full.

It at least meant the Irish fans had the acoustics to run through their full repertoire, and the manager will be heartened by the frequent songs in support of him. 

Shane Duffy made a terrific block on the line to secure Ireland’s clean sheet with the game’s final act, garnishing this as Ireland’s biggest competitive win in six years. 

Up and running.

At last. 

Azerbaijan: Shakrudin Magomedalieyv; Maksim Medvedev (captain); Abbas Huseynov, Hojjat Haghverdi, Anton Krivotsyuk (Renat Dadasov, 78′); Tural Bayramov (Araz Abdullayev, 62′); Gara Garayev, Emin Makhmudov, Filip Ozobic; Mahir Emreli, Namik Alaskarov (Ramil Sheydaev, 62′)

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Matt Doherty; Andrew Omobamidele, Shane Duffy, John Egan (captain); James McClean; Josh Cullen (Conor Hourihane, 90′), Jeff Hendrick; Callum Robinson (Troy Parrott, 90′), Daryl Horgan (Jamie McGrath HT); Adam Idah (Chiedozie Ogbene, 58′)

Referee: Espen Eskas (NOR)

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