Ireland lose initiative with no room for error to avoid relegation

There is no time to sulk – Ireland need to deliver a performance and a win against Armenia.

Irish dejection was evident at the final whistle.
Irish dejection was evident at the final whistle.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

IT’S ALL ABOUT moments in any match.

They all add up and they all matter.

One by one they can build momentum, increase confidence, and help to shape the way of taking charge in a game.

Matt Doherty will look back at two pivotal incidents with nothing but regret.

Troy Parrott will also go to bed tonight staring at the ceiling wondering what might have been.

And Stephen Kenny can only be left to rue his side being unable to stem the tide of a Scotland onslaught in the second half.

Mistakes, both blatant and subtle, cost Ireland dear on a night when relegation from League B of the Nations League is still a possibility going into the final game with Armenia on Tuesday.

That is not what Kenny had in mind considering his stated aim was to try and earn promotion among some of the elite.

Josh Cullen set a tone for Ireland in the eighth minute after Scotland produced a sharp move down the right flank which took them from just outside their own 18-yard-box to driving into Ireland’s in a matter of seconds.

josh-cullen-with-lyndon-dykes Cullen set the tone early on. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Scott McTominay advanced forward and looked to have a clear view of goal, only for Ireland’s No.6 to maintain pace with the Manchester United midfielder and produce an important block to deflect the effort harmlessly into the welcome hands of Gavin Bazunu.

From there Ireland seized control.

It looked like it could last, but that wasn’t the case.

After his starting XI was confirmed, Kenny spoke of needing a performance that married intensity and composure.

His players delivered for one half only – even if Cullen was fortunate not to be sent off on the stroke of half-time when two errors of judgement within seconds of each other could easily have seen him shown a red card.

He was shown a yellow for tapping the ball away after Scotland were awarded a free kick deep in their own half.

Then he miss timed a sliding tackle as Aaron Hickey again ventured forward with purpose. Their captain, John McGinn, rightly made a forceful case for a second booking to referee Sandro Schärer buit the Swiss official showed a welcome level of leniency.

It would have been a disastrous end to a half which Ireland looked assured and began to demoralise a weary-looking opponent – not-so-fresh after a fine 3-0 win over Ukraine on Wednesday.

Nathan Collins drove forward and ended up in the Scotland penalty box within the first minute of the second half, seemingly a sign of intent, but three minutes later the hosts were level and momentum swung.

Ireland simply weren’t capable of wrestling back the initiative, and after Parrott passed up a gilt-edged one-on-one opportunity with a tame shot straight at Craig Gordon on 56 minutes, confidence seemed to drain.

Any slim hope Ireland had of topping this group had evaporated a couple of hours before the players even arrived at Hampden Park.

Ukraine’s 5-0 demolition of Armenia made sure of that.

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It meant qualification to League A was no longer viable.

Those opening two defeats to Armenia and Ukraine in June provided an uphill battle that was insurmountable. This second half a microcosm of a campaign that has offered some signs of positivity but also clear issues that will have to be overcome.

But the fight has needed to go on, especially when there is a constant battle to be had for Kenny to show he is moulding a squad that is capable of finding a consistency to their performances.

troy-parrott-after-the-game Troy Parrott after the final whistle. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Only then will there be any prolonged success – such as qualification for major tournament and promotion to League A.

The snakes and ladders nature of the tenure was to be expected given the overhaul required, but Kenny’s judgement in identifying those emerging Irish stars, and his ability in providing the framework for them to thrive, will naturally be up for debate until they come good.

Ireland started with a side that had an average age of 24.36 while the Scots’ was 27.27. The importance of those three years should not be underestimated.

Dara O’Shea’s inclusion in place of Shane Duffy was perhaps the most telling indication of where Kenny will now try and take this Ireland team – the Derry titan is no longer a guaranteed starter when fit unless he is playing regular club football.

Even if it was a selection made purely on reason – O’Shea has been thriving with West Brom while Duffy’s two 89th-minute substitute appearances on loan with Fulham have left him struggling.

Ireland were clinical in trouncing Scotland last June but here that same sharpness was lacking.

There is no time to sulk, and there can be no hangover allowed against Armenia.

About the author:

David Sneyd  / reports from Hampden Park

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