Stephen Kenny exclaims after Evan Ferguson's goal. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
no slip up

Kenny's half-time switch key as Ireland eventually beat Gibraltar

Ireland overcame a stodgy first-half to win 3-0.

Republic of Ireland 3

Gibraltar 0


IRELAND’S EUROS QUALIFYING campaign may be beyond resuscitation but Ireland at least heeded the first step of any resurrection: it begins by rolling over the Rock. 

Ireland made needlessly hard work of doing so in the first-half, labouring in their 3-5-2, creating little against Gibraltar’s deep defence. Stephen Kenny changed things radically at half-time, however, swapping a defender- Nathan Collins – for an attacker in Mikey Johnston, and switching to a 4-3-3 for the first time in two years. 

Ireland immediately snapped to attention, and won the game through goals from Johnston and Evan Ferguson, who was made much more involved by Ireland’s change of shape. 

The extent to which repairs the damage of Friday’s defeat in Athens is dubious – Kenny’s name was sung for the first time in the 86th minute and with much less vigour than previously – but this game did not make anything worse, which was the aim of the exercise. 

For the second game in a row, the best part of Ireland’s first half was its first minute, as Ireland broke from the kick-off and Jason Knight’s pull-back was smacked at goalkeeper Dayle Coleing by Jamie McGrath. 

From there, however, Ireland laboured prescriptively, shuffling the ball from side to side without creating anything clear-cut. Knight and McGrath were one of five changes from the Greece debacle but the changes didn’t extend to a formation shift, with the 3-5-2 retained. And with Mikey Johnston curiously left on the bench, Ireland didn’t have a single player capable of reliably dribbling past their man. Therefore any moves to prise open Gibraltar’s squatting defence were engineered, the stuff of Stephen Kenny’s methodical planning. 

All moves out wide involved rotations between the wing-back and advanced midfielder on that side (McGrath and Will Smallbone), and the careful fidelity to the plan slowed Ireland down. Their inability to switch play further slowed them down, with Josh Cullen’s passing range again deserting him. Instead he shuffled Ireland across the pitch with careful husbandry but zero intent. The persistence with a back three was utterly needless, too, given Gibraltar’s best attacking plan was to literally bore Ireland to sleep, taking an age over their goal kicks. 

Ireland were better when they popped balls into the feet of their forwards, although Michael Obafemi’s touch was maddeningly random. Their best opportunity after the first minute again fell to McGrath: it came from a ball to Obafemi’s feet which was flicked onto Ferguson and then to McGrath. 

Again Ireland struggled to involve Ferguson, the closest he came to scoring in the first-half was when he narrowly missed McClean’s cross. It was otherwise desperately dreary, and Ireland left to a smattering of weary boos from the crowd. The Irish Independent’s Aidan Fitzmaurice had the stat to sum-up Ireland’s singular struggles in these types of games. 

In all of their 22 Euro qualifiers to date, Gibraltar have only ever kept the opposition scoreless until half time in 2 games – at home to Ireland in 2019 and away to Ireland in 2023.

Stephen Kenny and his staff have too often failed to change the flow of games from the touchline but they happily won this game at half-time. Not starting Johnston was an error but it was corrected, and he was introduced for Nathan Collins as Ireland slipped to a traditional and uncomplicated 4-3-3.

The Irish players looked liberated and Johnston made an instant impact, combining well with Smallbone to force a corner. He made a bigger impact shortly after. Bernardo Lopes clumsily handled on the edge of the box and when Smallbone’s free-kick deflected into his path in front of goal, Johnston couldn’t miss. 

Ireland haven’t played with a back four since the friendly win against Andorra two years ago, shying away from it after the retirement of David McGoldrick. The quality of Ferguson’s hold-up play is a game-changer, however, and today it allowed Kenny to revert to the system he played so effectively at Dundalk. 

And it soon led to Ferguson’s first competitive goal for his country. It was gloriously simple: James McClean crossed from the left and Ferguson rose to head in at the back post. 

james-mcclean-reacts-after-shooting-wide McClean reacts to his missed chance. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

After that the Mexican wave could ripple its way around the ground, nobody more delighted to see such an expression of calm and ease as Kenny himself. The game trundled to and end, with Johnston a threat cutting in from the left while McClean came agonisingly close to crowning his 100th cap with a goal, his penalty-box shot deflected over by Louie Annesley of Dundalk. 

Ferguson left to a standing ovation and was replaced by Adam Idah, who rounded out the night with his first Irish goal, nodding in another fine McClean cross. 

It meant Ireland became the fourth team in this group to beat Gibraltar 3-0.

Idah glossed the scoreboard, and Ireland applied balm to a bruising few days. 

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Nathan Collins, John Egan, Dara O’Shea; Jason Knight (Jeff Hendrick, 84′); Josh Cullen, Will Smallbone (Alan Browne, 71′), Jamie McGrath; James McClean (captain); Michael Obafemi (Troy Parrott, 56′), Evan Ferguson (Adam Idah, 84′)

Gibraltar: Dayle Coleing; John Sergeant (Scott Wiseman, 46′), Roy Chipolina (captain) (Aymen Mouelhi, 42′), Bernardo Lopes, Ethan Britto (Scott Ballantine, 73′), Jayce Olivero; Kian Ronan, Nicholas Pozo (Ethan Jolley, 68′), Louie Annesley, Niels Hartman; Ayoub El Hmidi (Tjay De Barr, HT)

Referee: Marian Alexandru Barbu

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel