Jason Knight. Bryan Keane/INPHO
another bad night

Ireland's miserable run continues with goalless draw against Bulgaria

Ireland avoided relegation with a point in Dublin, but will be third seeds in the World Cup qualifiers and now haven’t scored in 11 hours of football.

Republic of Ireland 0

Bulgaria 0


In an empty ground, all that was audible was the fierce wind buffeting and battering the Aviva; it was a gale that shook the stadium’s glass exterior and whistled through the concourse to give this game a strong horror aesthetic, morphing the vast and lonely ground into the kind of gothic mansion found in an Edgar Allen Poe story. 

Ireland drew 0-0 with Bulgaria to at least avoid relegation to League C in the Nations League, but they are now guaranteed to be third seeds in the World Cup qualifiers draw and their record-setting goalless run is now at 11 hours.

Their single goal of 2020 came from a set piece last September; by the time the World Cup qualifiers come around it will have been 16 months since they last scored from open play. 

Tonight they started poorly but grew into the game, then hit the crossbar and spurned a glorious opportunity but once again failed to score and failed to win. 

The latest five to be declared missing for this game were Hendrick, Molumby, McClean, Doherty and Idah, so Kenny shuffled Dara O’Shea across to right back and gave Ryan Manning a senior debut. Jason Knight made his full debut in midfield alongside Conor Hourihane, with Ronan Curtis, Robbie Brady, Daryl Horgan and James Collins the front four entrusted with ending the goal drought.

That ambition was complicated by Ireland being the inferior side for tracts of the first half, augured by a simple first-minute chance for Bulgaria in which Shane Duffy had to block a Kraev shot in the box.

Their passing was desperately poor at times, sterile and lacking penetration. The only chances Ireland’s passing really created was for Bulgaria. Shane Duffy played an errant square ball to Aleksandar Tsvetkov, with Kevin Long forced to block the shot. Duffy was then the one forced into defensive action, diverting a Dimitar Iliev shot into the arms of Randolph after Jason Knight gave the ball away. 

Ireland’s only real purpose came from the direct running of Ronan Curtis and Daryl Horgan. Curtis gambolled onto a loose ball early in the half and saw a deflected shot narrowly evade James Collins at the back post. Later, Horgan stood up Cicinho and jinked past him before standing up a terrific cross for Collins, who headed over the bar. 

The torment of Ireland’s goalless run was etched all over Stephen Kenny as he twisted away in angst. 

james-collins-reacts-to-a-missed-chance James Collins reacts to a missed chance. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Collins also offered Ireland an outlet to hold the ball up that had been missing against England and Wales, and that he came close to scoring from a couple of crosses might have had Mick McCarthy warmly nodding both in vindication and approval from his new home in Cyprus. 

Ireland began the second half with more energy, but it was more heat than light, with a series of moves breaking down in a cymbal-crashing symphony of loose passes, clumsy touches, and reproving looks. 

Their best hope of a goal was through Collins, who hooked an O’Shea cross narrowly wide of the post.

Then, five minutes before the hour mark…the chance. 

Jason Knight pounces on the ball in midfield, strides forward and hears Ronan Curtis screaming.

Knight looks up to find Curtis effectively already through on goal, in a frankly laughable amount of space.

Knight’s pass is good, and Curtis gets his touch right.

He glances at the expanse of goal he has to aim at…he has the whole goal to hit!

He picks his spot.

He steadies himself….and he skews his shot wildly over the crossbar. 

Curtis then glanced hopefully at the ground and found no pardon. 

Ireland have made a habit of conceding goals at the same time in games – twice in three defeats the decisive goal came on the 65-minute mark,  and Bulgaria should have done exactly that here. A corner bounced right across the box to Dimitrov, but the time between his touch and shot allowed Duffy  to throw himself in front of goal and force a corner. 

Josh Cullen was introduced form Horgan and his quick-thinking sent Ireland agonisingly close to The Goal, as he knocked a quick free-kick to Robbie Brady who rattled the crossbar from distance. 

Perhaps the ringing of the crossbar was amplified by the empty stadium, or perhaps it just echoed loudly in this collective nightmare of ours. Cullen was terrific from the moment of his introduction, injecting energy and purpose into the Irish midfield; his first instinct always to pass forward. 

Jack Byrne, meanwhile, came into the fray for the injured Brady, and within moments Ireland came closer still, as a Hourihane cross flashed right across the six-yard box. 

The game collapsed into anarchy in the closing stages with all semblance of team structure absent, but Ireland threw bodies forward – and Troy Parrott onto the pitch – but couldn’t force a goal. 

When might Ireland again score a goal? 

We’d all be forgiven for quoting the raven: nevermore. 

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Dara O’Shea, Shane Duffy (captain), Kevin Long, Ryan Manning (Cyrus Christie, 84′); Jason Knight, Conor Hourihane, Robbie Brady (Jack Byrne, 78′); Daryl Horgan (Josh Cullen, 66′), James Collins (Sean Maguire, 85′), Ronan Curtis (Troy Parrott, 85′)

Bulgaria: Martin Lukov; Strahil Popov (captain), Kristian Dimitrov, Georgi Angelov, Cicinho (Aleksander Vasilev, 60′); Kristyian Malinov, Aleksander Tsvetkov,; Spas Delev (Svetoslav Kovachev, 60′) Dimitar Iliev (Denislav Aleksandrov, 81′) Galin Ivanov (Bircent Kargaren, 60′); Bozhidar Kraev 

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