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Ireland made to regret missed chances in Nations League loss to Scotland

Ireland lost their half-time lead in a 2-1 defeat.

Troy Parrott reacts to his missed chance.
Troy Parrott reacts to his missed chance.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Scotland 2

Republic of Ireland 1

AT THE END Stephen Kenny stood still in his technical area, his gaze fixed off into the distance, hands resting on his hips in dismay and mild disbelief, meeting defeat once again. 

Frozen in time. 

Ireland took a lead to the dressing room at half-time but returned there with nothing, John Egan’ opening goal made moot by Jack Hendry’s header and Ryan Christie’s vexed penalty. 

This was a whirring, splenetic clash, filled with sound and fury, but Ireland and Troy Parrott faltered when the music stopped. Just before the hour mark, just after the Scottish equaliser and during their best spell, Parrott was sent clear into the penalty area by Michael Obafemi. 

For once, he had time…time…too much time.

Frozen with time. 

His shot was tame and easily blocked by Craig Gordon. Parrott’s work-rate was outstanding all night but the stuff in the spotlight matters far more than than the stuff in the shade. It encapsulated an Irish side toiling hard but too often failing to meet the moment when it matters most.

A harsh penalty call would later go against them, and thus the Nations League will end with an effective relegation play-off against Armenia on Tuesday. 

Stephen Kenny said he was loathe to change the team that beat Scotland 3-0 in June but he changed it nonetheless. Gavin Bazunu and Matt Doherty returned to the team, while Dara O’Shea slotted into the back three ahead of Shane Duffy and Seamus Coleman. 

John Egan played in the middle of the back three, with O’Shea to the left and Collins right, the latter freed to roam about the pitch in that fabulously casual way of his. Steve Clarke resisted mass rotation but did replace Che Adams with Lyndon Dykes, who is less a striker than he is a trundling weapon of siege. Egan and Collins dealt well with that aerial threat, aggressively pushing up to win the majority of aerial duels. 

Their aggression captured Ireland’s zesty start, as they chased possession and snapped into tackles with the zeal of a side seeking revenge rather than denying it. 

Kenny did retain Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi up front, and it was one of their earlier link-ups that yielded Ireland’s first goal. Obafemi pounced on a loose ball and accelerated toward goal before slipping the ball to Parrott, whose shot was deflected behind for Ireland’s first corner. 

James McClean’s delivery was half-cleared, but Jayson Molumby, a kind of Agent of Chaos, threw himself at the ball, deflecting it into Collins’ path. Collins couldn’t control it ,but no matter: Egan swivelled and snapped a first-time shot into the bottom corner. 

Ireland dealt comfortably with the long balls hoiked Dykes’ direction, though struggled occasionally when Scotland went wide, and McGinn skewed a first-time shot wide in the box from Stuart Armstrong’s cross. 

The only Irish sighs of relief in the first half were because of a referee’s reprieve. Josh Cullen was booked in the half’s dying embers and almost moments later slid and caught Aaron Hickey late. Hampden Park bayed for red, the referee stood still, slowly moved his hand to his side…and picked up his can of vanishing spray. A useful lesson: if you’re going to get away with a yellow-card worthy tackle, make it instantly after getting a yellow card. 

No such relief after half-time. Ireland conceded two minutes after half-time in their most recent game against Ukraine, tonight they lasted five minutes. Again the goal came from a collective brain-freeze: Matt Doherty too easily allowed Ryan Christie slip by him and curl a cross into the penalty area, where centre-half Jack Hendry was completely unmarked to head beyond Bazunu. 

jack-hendry-scores-his-sides-first-goal Jack Hendry scores the equaliser. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland’s first-half propulsion ground suddenly to a halt, and they squatted in their own penalty area as Hampden baited and roared. Dykes peeled frequently to the back post, and Collins did superbly to nod a cross away under severe pressure. 

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Ireland’s salvation were set-pieces, though this time they lived off Scottish corners rather than their own. When Scotland tried a short corner and it broke down, Obafemi skipped clear and rode a desperate, cynical attempt to foul him to tee up Parrott for Ireland’s golden, wasted moment.

Obafemi was instantly replaced by Chiedozie Ogbene who had no time for his presentable chance, when Gordon made a hames of a clearance, cannoning it off Ogbene and back into his grateful arms. 

Ogbene’s pace offered a counter-attacking threat but this was now Ireland’s sole subsistence; the spells of control and patterns of possession they had in the first half vanished. Energy was instead directed to not buckling under the Scottish siege: Doherty redeemed himself with a goal-line clearance from another Scottish corner. 

A subsequent corner presaged their undoing. Alan Browne dangled his arms in the air when challenging McTominay for a header, off which the ball deflected. The extreme close range and the fact Browne stumbled were deemed no mitigation, and Ryan Christie rolled the ball beyond Bazunu. 

Ireland mustered very little in response amid a chaotic endgame, as tempers frayed. The referee flashed yellow cards after the full-time whistle, and Ireland will fly home carrying a grievance. They were once again the wrong side of wafer-thin margins, the question they face is how to stop leaving themselves subject to such narrow sides of fate. 

 

Scotland: Craig Gordon; Aaron Hickey (Anthony Ralston, 57′) Jack Hendry, Scott McKenna, Kieran Tierney (Greg Taylor, 41′); Scott McTominay, Callum McGregor; Stuart Armstrong (Ryan Fraser, 57′), John McGinn (captain), Ryan Christie (Kenny McClean 83′); Lyndon Dykes (Che Adams, 83′)

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; Dara O’Shea, Nathan Collins, John Egan; Matt Doherty (Seamus Coleman, 75′); Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Alan Browne, 75′), Jason Knight; James McClean (Robbie Brady, 80′); Troy Parrott (Callum Robinson, 75′), Michael Obafemi (Chiedozie Ogbene, 60′)

Referee: Sandro Scharer (SUI)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from Hampden Park

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