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Ireland round out season with encouraging draw away to Euros-bound Hungary

It finished 0-0 in front of a full house in Budapest.

James McClean in action against Hungary.
James McClean in action against Hungary.

Hungary 0 

Republic of Ireland 0 

HUNGARY ARE ON their way to the Euros and Ireland on their way home for another summer in relative anonymity, though they will take more encouragement than dissuasion from this goalless draw in Budapest.

It finished goalless but Ireland looked rarely threatened by Hungary, with goalkeepers Gavin Bazunu and Caoimhin Kelleher neatly dealing with the few chances the hosts did create. Ireland again struggled to create chances from open play, though might have won the game on dead balls: John Egan will regret seeing an early header cannon off the crossbar.

The game was played in front of a full house in Budapest, with the crowd heartily jeering the Irish players’ decision to take a knee before kick-off. The Hungarian players instead remained standing, pointing to the Uefa ‘Respect’ symbol on their sleeves. 

Given the Hungarian Prime Minister has denounced refugees as “invaders” and “poison”, perhaps their political system will wear the supporters’ reaction blithely and won’t feel the need to disguise the booing of an anti-racism gesture as an insane stand against some kind of stealthy Marxist plot. 

Given the atmosphere it was unsurprising that Ireland were under the cosh from the off. Their enduring issues playing out from the back reared their head after just 30 seconds, too, when Conor Hourihane left a pass short in midfield and had to hare urgently back to concede a corner. 

Ireland again struggled to poke a way through a high Hungarian press on their own goal kicks, but they were at least canny enough to adapt, with Bazunu sending a few goal kicks long after one too many scares in the opening quarter.

Among the most positive aspects of Ireland’s performance was that of the returning Shane Duffy, starting his first game of any kind since the friendly draw with Qatar in March. Picked on the right hand side of Ireland’s back three, Duffy made light of concerns about how he might struggle far away from his own goal, stepping up aggressively to draw the foul from which Ireland should have taken the lead.

Josh Cullen’s whipped ball from the right may have been intended for Duffy – Troy Parrott peeled off to make the kind of conspicuous block on a runner near Duffy that VAR might have been alerted to – but instead Egan stooped to meet a terrific cross that he saw bounce off the bar. 

Duffy’s only true error came in the final few minutes, as he miscontrolled a pass on the edge of his own six-yard box to sound the starter ball on a few seconds of pure pandemonium, happily ended with Szalai curling a shot narrowly wide of Kelleher’s post. 

Ireland created nothing from open play in the first half but looked threatening off set pieces, and when Conor Hourihane whipped a delightful ball that bounced unimpeded across Hungary’s six-yard box, Kenny turned to coach Anthony Barry to ponder what went wrong.  Out of possession Ireland were compact and disciplined, with Troy Parrott given the hard-running task of dropping off to the right to deal with the surging runs of Hungary’s left-sided centre-back Attila Szalai. 

hungary-v-republic-of-ireland-international-friendly-szusza-ferenc-stadium Source: PA

Hungary couldn’t play through Ireland and were restricted to long-range shots and deep crosses, one of which was met by striker Adam Szalai but clawed adroitly away by Bazunu. 

Kenny spoke of wanting to give Bazunu experience in front of a crowd – his breakout season has been almost entirely played in the pandemic’s antiseptic silence – but the goalkeeper looked as assured as he ever did. His only real concern will be the performance of his replacement. 

As forewarned, Caoimhin Kelleher made his first appearance under Stephen Kenny at half time, and his first significant contribution was to smartly tip away a first-time Adam Szalai. As Kelleher then went on to show, Ireland’s depth at goalkeeper is faintly ridiculous: twice in quick succession in the closing minutes he made terrific reaction saves from Szalais Adam and Atilla to safeguard’s Ireland draw.

Earlier, another of Kenny’s substitutions almost made an instant impact: Daryl Horgan replaced Parrott 10 minutes after the break and instantly ran onto a pass over the top, delicately letting the ball roll off his chest before dinking the ball square for Idah, who saw the ball blocked behind for Ireland’s first corner. 

Jayson Molumby, meanwhile, replaced Hourihane, who trudged off looking pretty crestfallen after another ineffective stint at the back of Ireland’s midfield. Ireland had to wait for the midway point in the second half for their first shot from distance: Adam Idah gifted possession from a poor backpass before testing Adam Bogdan – Hungary’s replacement goalkeeper and the third of the night to have played for Liverpool – with a shot from range. 

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At the other end, Shane Duffy showed some of his more recognised skills in sweeping across to throw himself a Szalai shot. Ireland spent swathes of the second half as the better side, with Jason Knight looking more comfortable further on the right when he was shifted out there following Parrott’s withdrawal, but it was Knight’s late replacement who might have won the game with his first touch as a senior international.

Chiedozie Ogbene beat Hungary’s offside trap to pounce on Horgan’s through ball, but rifled his shot into the side netting. Ogbene’s impact was eye-catching: gambolling onto a raking Horgan pass, he fashioned a late chance for James Collins that went wasted. 

It wasn’t anything for Ireland to be jubilant about, but instead the kind of performance that might be the scaffolding for something more complete to come. Ireland will end up as a compromise on Stephen Kenny’s bold early idealism, and this week aggregated a few hints that the settlement will be more effective than we fretted it would be. 

Hungary: Peter Gulasci (Adam Bogdan, 62′); Bendeguez Bolla (Grego Lovrencsis, HT); Akos Kecsks, Willi Orban, Attila Szalai; Attila Fiola (Janos Hahn, 78′); Laszlo Kleinheisler (Loic Nego, 62′), Adam Nagy, Andras Schafer; Adam Szalai (captain) (Szabolcs Schon, 88′), Roland Varga (Kevin Varga, HT) 

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu (Caoimhin Kelleher, HT) ; Matt Doherty; Shane Duffy, John Egan (captain), Dara O’Shea; James McClean (Ryan Manning, 84′); Josh Cullen, Conor Hourihane (Jayson Molumby, 55′); Jason Knight (Chiedozie Ogbene, 88′); Troy Parrott (Horgan, 55′), Adam Idah (James Collins, 88′)

Referee: Daniel Stefanski (Poland)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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