Ben Blake reports from Tallaght Stadium
A STEPHANIE ROCHE penalty at the start of the second half was enough to hand the Ireland women’s national team victory over Slovakia today.
Matters off-the-field have put the spotlight on the squad for all the wrong reasons in the past week. The well-publicised dispute with the FAI over working conditions was widely-reported nationally and around the world before a resolution was found in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Despite strong support from the public on their stance, a crowd of 1,037 turned out at Tallaght, which created a pretty subdued atmosphere. The 2pm kick-off time on a Monday afternoon will not have helped attendance figures.
Following two wins, one draw and a defeat at the recent Cyprus Cup, new manager Colin Bell took charge of his first home game for the visit of Slovakia — ranked nine places behind Ireland as the 41st-best team in the world.
He named a strong starting XI for the international friendly with veteran goalkeeper Emma Byrne captaining a side that lined out in a 4-1-4-1 formation, and lone striker Stephanie Roche spearheading the attack.
There was little in the way of chances during the opening exchanges. Roche saw her free-kick sail high and wide, while Byrne kept out a set-piece from Maria Mikolajova.
Slovakia captain Lucia Harsanyova was forced off with an injury on 12 minutes, moments before Harriet Scott’s throw-in found its way to Katie McCabe.
The Arsenal winger, who showed flashes of brilliance and won player-of-the-match, reached the end-line and fizzed the ball across the Slovakian goalmouth but the stretching Roche couldn’t get onto the end of it.
The best chance of the half came five minutes before the interval and fell to Ireland.
Connolly put O’Sullivan through with a nicely-weighted pass and the Cork native opted to shoot first time. Slovakian stopper El Dahabiova got a block on the first effort and then did brilliantly to make a double save from O’Sullivan’s follow-up.
A scrappy 45 minutes came drew to a close and Bell’s frustrations were evident as his bellowing voice could be easily heard around the ground.
The one change at the break saw Byrne withdrawn at the break with Marie Hourihan of Manchester City coming in.
And just two minutes after the restart, Ireland took a deserved lead. O’Sullivan was brought down in the box by Stanislava Likova and Roche stepped up to score from the spot.
At this point, the home side — who were much-improved — looked well in control of the game and they will be disappointed that the scoreline didn’t reflect that.
McCabe, who was switched onto the right wing, nutmegged her marker and cut inside. Her strike took a deflection on the way to goal but El Dahabiova was well-placed to catch.
Roche then beat the offside trap and flicked the ball over the head of the Slovakian keeper but Lucia Sukova got back well to clear off the line. At the death, substitute Claire O’Riordan was only on the pitch when she poked narrowly wide.
Attention now turns to the 2019 World Cup qualifying draw on 25 April before summer friendlies with Iceland and Scotland.
IRELAND: Byrne (c) (Hourihan 46); Perry, Scott, Quinn, Caldwell; Duggan, O’Gorman, Connolly (Russell 74), O’Sullivan, McCabe (O’Riordan 90); Roche (Littlejohn 88).
SLOVAKIA: El Dahabiova; Harsanyova (c) (Susolova 14), Biroova, Fabova (Havranova 58), Liskova (Brissova 68) , Hmirova, Kosikova (Kovalova 79), Zdechovanova (Slukova 63), Suskova, Bartovicova, Mikolajova.
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