Republic of Ireland 0
Paul Dollery reports from the Aviva Stadium
THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland have their first point on the board in the Uefa Nations League after a game that won’t live too long in the memory for those who turned up to see it.
Amid a somewhat muted atmosphere, the number of empty seats belied the announced attendance of 41,220 as Ireland played out a goalless draw with Denmark in their first competitive home game since losing 5-1 to the same opposition last November.
A game that didn’t provide much by way of entertainment did at least feature an Irish display that was a significant improvement — defensively at least — on last month’s opening fixture in this competition, which was a 4-1 defeat away to a Wales side who come to Dublin on Tuesday.
The second-half introduction of Callum Robinson injected a new lease of life into the Ireland attack. He gave the crowd something to shout about and posed a few problems for the Danish defence, but a share of the spoils was the most Ireland deserved. It was a first clean sheet in seven games for Ireland. Their last shutout came in the first leg of the World Cup play-off against the Danes.
Denmark’s starting line-up showed five changes to the team that crushed Ireland’s hopes of World Cup qualification here 11 months ago. Injured talisman Christian Eriksen — who helped himself to a hat-trick that night — was the visitors’ most notable absentee, although Ireland could also claim to be operating without their best player.
With captain Seamus Coleman ruled out for Martin O’Neill’s side, Richard Keogh wore the armband in his first competitive appearance for his country since March 2017.
The most significant inclusion in the Irish side was Matt Doherty. Having recently been named Premier League Fans’ Player of the Month, the Wolves defender was handed his competitive international debut as a right-wing-back in what appeared to resemble a 3-5-2 formation.
Harry Arter sat in front of the back three, Jeff Hendrick supported Shane Long as a second striker when Ireland were on the front foot, while Cyrus Christie was also deployed in an unfamiliar role as the hosts sought to crowd the midfield.
Hendrick had a golden opportunity to give Ireland an early lead, although the visitors were enraged by the manner in which he engineered it. When Arter went down with an injury, Thomas Delaney appeared to be about to kick the ball out of play to allow the on-loan Cardiff City midfielder to receive treatment.
Before Delaney could do so, Hendrick robbed him of possession and bore down on Kasper Schmeichel’s goal. After curling his effort narrowly wide, Hendrick was subjected to a few bollockings from the opposition which sparked a brief scuffle before order was restored and the game resumed.
There were 85 minutes still to play, but that was the closest Ireland came to a goal. The way the team was set up may have achieved its goal of denying Denmark the space they required for their technically superior players to flourish, but offensively there was little to be encouraged by from an Irish perspective.
Once again the Boys in Green struggled to retain possession for sustained periods, while there was scant evidence of any tangible plan of attack on the few occasions when the Danes were forced to retreat. Generally isolated up front, Shane Long often cut a frustrated figure as speculative long balls were punted into his vicinity.
When Ireland took the lead against Denmark in their previous encounter, Shane Duffy’s goal was a product of a set-piece that was sent into the box. History almost repeated itself in the 39th minute of tonight’s game, but Duffy couldn’t keep his header on target this time after being picked out by a delightful delivery from Hendrick.
As expected, Denmark dominated possession and although they created a few half-chances, Darren Randolph was only called into action once during the opening period when he had to be alert to snatch the ball away from the feet of Delaney, the Middlesbrough goalkeeper taking an accidental foot to the head for his troubles.
Nevertheless, there were a couple of nervy moments for Ireland just before the interval. First, Doherty breathed a sigh of relief when he eventually cleared the danger after initially struggling to deal with a Henrik Dalsgaard ball to the back post. The lively Pione Sisto then curled a right-footed effort off the outside of Randolph’s far post.
Due to an injury to Callum O’Dowda, Sheffield United left-back Enda Stevens was introduced at half-time for his fourth cap, which pushed James McClean into a more central role.
The change in personnel altered nothing about the dynamic of the contest initially, as all 11 Irish players continued to spend substantial periods deep inside their own half while Age Hareide’s team surveyed their options in pursuit of a goal.
It would have arrived in the 58th minute were it not for the intervention of Harry Arter. The midfielder has seen his value to Ireland questioned in some quarters after briefly opting out of the squad following a bust-up with assistant manager Roy Keane, but he made a vital contribution with an off-the-line clearance when Simon Kjaer got his head on a corner.
Arter was withdrawn on 65 minutes and his replacement, Callum Robinson, brought the game the fresh impetus it desperately needed. The Preston North End attacker, who has scored six times in his last seven Championship appearances, was eager to run at the Danish defence and his pace provided an option that Ireland previously lacked.
His efforts sparked a passage of play which eventually led to Kasper Schmeichel making his only save of the game, the Leicester City goalkeeper producing a good stop to deny Cyrus Christie who had been teed up on the edge of the box by Shane Long.
At the other end, Randolph made an important save to keep out an effort from Martin Braithwaite in the 84th minute, but there was still time for one last moment of drama in the Danish penalty area. Christie’s cross from the right was aimed at Duffy, who went down under a challenge from Dalsgaard.
On first inspection it certainly appeared to be a legitimate penalty claim, but instead of a spot-kick, the Ireland defender was awarded a yellow card by Spanish referee Javier Estrada.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Richard Keogh (captain), Shane Duffy, Kevin Long; Harry Arter (Callum Robinson, 65); Matt Doherty, Cyrus Christie, Callum O’Dowda (Enda Stevens, HT), James McClean; Jeff Hendrick; Shane Long (Aiden O’Brien, 83).
DENMARK: Kasper Schmeichel; Henrik Dalsgaard, Simon Kjaer, Mathias Jorgensen, Jens Stryger Larsen; Lasse Schone, Thomas Delaney; Yussuf Poulsen, Martin Braithwaite, Pione Sisto; Kasper Dolberg (Andreas Christensen, 79).
Referee: Javier Estrada (Spain).
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