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Ireland underwhelm as Kenny begins Aviva reign with defeat to Finland

A Fredrik Jensen goal gave the visitors a 1-0 victory in Dublin this evening.

Stephen Kenny reacts in game.
Stephen Kenny reacts in game.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 0

Finland 1

IN AN EMPTY Aviva Stadium, it was the echoes from Thursday night in Sofia that rang loudest. Again Ireland had more of the ball but again failed to create many clear-cut chances while looking alarmingly vulnerable at the back. 

And again Ireland fell behind in the second half,  but there was no late equaliser this time: Shane Duffy’s late header from Robbie Brady’s corner nestled onto the roof of the net. 

It’s a result that does little for Ireland’s eternally grim Nations League hopes, and even less for the Euros play-off with Slovakia next month as on the evidence of this week, it’s a case of some work done, a forbidding amount still to do. 

“When there’s a match on, everyone knows about it”, was how Stephen Kenny described the usual matchday atmosphere around Dublin, but nobody knew about it today, as the pandemic foreclosed on the Aviva’s atmosphere. 

The streets were still and ignorant, the air clear of burger smoke and throaty roars, while the concourses were ghostly: lights off, stalls shuttered and the bars dusty and empty. 

The emptiest echo of all came at the end of the national anthem: a dry and empty ringing at what is usually the game’s crescendo.  

Ireland’s first-half performance met with the general mundanity, lacking tempo and rhythm, with its abundance of lateral passing a direct contradiction of the manager’s pre-game demands. 

Kenny’s personnel changes all came in midfield, with Jayson Molumby bringing some of the “chaotic” energy that his manager has praised, albeit he grew ragged as the game wore on. 

Robbie Brady earned a start having impressed off the bench in Sofia, and while occasionally careless on the ball he always looked like the Irish player to create a chance. Although Matt Doherty played much higher up the pitch that Enda Stevens, most of Ireland’s play came down the left through combination play involving Stevens, Brady, and Aaron Connolly. 

fredrik-jensen-celebrates-after-scoring-the-first-goal Jensen celebrates his goal. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Harry Arter, meanwhile, seemed a Kenny paradox in the sense that he looked better when he didn’t have the ball than when he did have it. 

It was Finland who created the best chance of the first half: Robert Taylor continued Thursday’s trend of finding too much space in the Irish midfield and slipped through Teemu Pukki, who ran off Shane Duffy but saw his shot blocked by a splayed Darren Randolph. 

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Ireland began the second half with more vigour but again struggled to create a chance: Aaron Connolly shot into the side-netting after Robbie Brady pressed a goal-kick, while otherwise there were optimistic long-range efforts from Callum O’Dowda and his replacement Callum Robinson. 

It was a Finland substitute who made the greatest impact, however, just after the hour mark. With Robbie Brady careless on the ball and the right half of Ireland’ defence again exposed, Fredrik Jensen turned home Taylor’s skidding cross from close range. 

David McGoldrick was sprung from the bench and all of a sudden Ireland created a couple of chances. Connolly fluffed his lines from close range as Robinson delivered the first decent Irish cross of the night, while McGoldrick and then Robinson both had shots blocked. 

Ireland continued to look deeply suspect on the counter, mind, and a slaloming run and shot by Taylor brought a fine save and an exasperated, “We’re killing ourselves” from Randolph. 

It was a one-man salvage mission from Randolph by the end, as he superbly tipped a curled Alho shot over the crossbar. 

With the noise and the pagenatry of a normal matchday stripped away, Ireland were exposed as a side in need of much improvement. 

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan, Enda Stevens; Harry Arter, Jayson Molumby, Robbie Brady; Callum O’Dowda (Callum Robinson, 58′), Adam Idah, (David McGoldrick, 66′) Aaron Connolly (James McClean, 77′)

Finland: Lukas Hradecky; Leo Vaisanen, Juhani Ojala, Daniel O’Shaughnessy; Robert Taylor, Tim Sparv, Glen Kamara, Nikolai Alho, Nicholas Hamalainen (Jere Uronen,79′); Teemu Pukki (Rasmus Karajalainen, 90′), Joel Pohjanpalo (Fredrik Jensen, 63′)

Referee: Fabio Maresca (Italy)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the Aviva Stadium

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