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Tsygankov free-kick condemns Ireland to another defeat in the Nations League

Ukraine were 1-0 winners at the Aviva Stadium tonight.

Shane Duffy reacts to a missed chance.
Shane Duffy reacts to a missed chance.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 0

Ukraine 1

BEATEN ONCE AGAIN, Ireland remain a side who desperately struggle to create chances and score goals while finding new and innovative ways to concede them in a competition they are further befouling with every passing game. 

The Ukraine players would instantly trade their daily barbarities for Ireland’s luxury of worrying about these frothy banalities, but this was another night of progress squandered for Stephen Kenny’s side.  

This was a chastening night for Ireland against Ukraine’s second-string, and again the decisive goal came from outside the box, this time via a scenic route: Viktor Tsygankov’s free-kick bent in from the touchline and missed everyone in the box on its way to the top corner. Ireland created little to rescue the game from there, with goalkeeper Andriy Lunin deflecting Shane Duffy’s late header onto the crossbar.

Two defeats from two in the group, and heady talk of topping the group now looks like it will be parlayed into a relegation battle. 

Kenny said he wouldn’t make drastic changes and he was true to his word: Cyrus Christie replaced the injured Seamus Coleman while Troy Parrott dropped out for Jason Knight. 

Ireland started like a side mortified by defeat in Armenia, pressing high and zipping into tackles. The aggression of their early start was summed up by the outside centre-backs, John Egan and Nathan Collins, stepping up to win challenges midway in the Ukraine half. 

The most significant change beyond attitude was Jason Knight’s inclusion. He showed the craft and intent that was sorely lacking in Yerevan within the game’s first minute with an adroit spin and driving run from his own half, with his pass finding an offside Callum Robinson. There were times when Knight was taking the game to Ukraine alone, stinging Andriy Lunin’s gloves with a shot from range. 

Ireland’s endeavour didn’t forge a clear-cut chance, however, and too often they were let down by their decision-making. Unlike in the Armenia game, Ireland had the space to play with, though not the calm to exploit it. At one point the rebound of a Shane Duffy block in his own penalty area platformed a promising three-on-one break, but the chance was thwarted by Ogbene’s tame pass to the feet of a Ukraine defender.

Ireland played quite direct and made the pragmatic decision not to play through Ukraine’s high press and instead Caoimhín Kelleher hit most of his goal-kicks long for Chiedozie Ogbene, who got little change from defender Oleksandr Syrota nor referee Filip Glova. 

In a now-repeating pattern, Ireland’s zippy start flatlined without an early goal. 

And in another familiar sight just before half-time, Kelleher was left clawing at air when he was beaten by a stunning strike from distance: this time it was Taras Kacharaba who came through the back of Knight to loop a Luis Garcia-style volley into the top corner. The Irish crowd screamed for a foul on Knight, but VAR offered a reprieve in its own finicky style: the goal was chalked off for a wafer-thin offside in the build-up. 

There was no reprieve in the second half’s second minute. Viktor Tsygankov, with his first touch since introduction at the break, whipped a free-kick in from the touchline that missed everyone, skipped off the ground, and bounced into the net. It was yet another freakish goal to concede, though the replays were ugly for Kelleher, who didn’t budge from his goal-line.  

caoimhin-kelleher-dejected-after-conceding-a-goal Kelleher reacts after the goal's concession. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ireland’s efforts to haul themselves level were an awful toil. Their passing was slow when it wasn’t woefully sloppy, and they created nothing for 20 minutes until Kenny turned to his bench. The play was a triple sub with no change of system: Alan Browne and McClean came on at wing-back and Michael Obafemi replaced Robinson up front. His was the stand-out impact: cleverly dropping off to play a one-touch lay-off to Brown, who was fouled. That brought spark to another Irish spell of passing and he then created Ireland’s best chance, his cross finding Duffy unmarked in the box, who saw a header from point-blank range tipped brilliantly onto the crossbar by Lunin. 

CJ Hamilton was sprung from the box for his debut to inject further pace, and he tussled gamely with Syrota to tee up Cullen, who responded to the crowds pleas by flashing a long-range shot narrowly wide. These are the goals Ireland concede, not score. 

The goals Ireland score are usually from set-pieces, and Browne had the Aviva gnarled in frustration when he headed McClean’s late free-kick wide of the back post. 

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There was one last chance: Duffy acrobatically met Browne’s cross with a volley, with the rebound breaking for Knight, who volleyed the ball into the 3,500 Ukraine fans behind the goal. 

Tsygankov should have settled the game in the final minute of stoppage time: a baffling Ireland switch-off allowed him gallop through unhindered into the box. Collins’ threw himself at the shot, which bounced off his toe and then the crossbar. 

Any full-time boos were smothered by the cheers from the jubilant Ukraine fans: the FAI  handed them 3,500 free tickets for the game, and Kenny’s side proved just as generous in providing them with a brief and fleeting balm. 

Republic of Ireland: Caoimhín Kelleher; Nathan Collins, Shane Duffy (captain), John Egan (Dara O’Shea, 58′); Cyrus Christie (Alan Browne 68′); Jeff Hendrick, Josh Cullen; Enda Stevens (James McClean, 68′); Chiedozie Ogbene (CJ Hamilton, 77′), Callum Robinson (Michael Obafemi, 68′), Jason Knight 

Ukraine: Andriy Lunin; Denys Popov, Valeriy Bondar, Oleksandr Syrota; Taras Kacharaba (Oleksandr Karavaev, 71′); Mykola Shaparenko, Serhiy Sydorchuk (Danylo Ihnatenko, 87′); Vitaly Mykolenko; Oleksandr Zubkov (Viktoe Tsygankov, HT), Artem Dovbyk (Danylo Sikan, 79′), Mykhailo Mudryk (Oleksandr Pikhalonok, 71′)

Referee: Filip Glova (SVK)

Attendance: 40,111

About the author:

Gavin Cooney  / reports from the Aviva Stadium R

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