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Dublin: 10°C Saturday 17 April 2021


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Hello everyone, are we well? You’re very welcome along to our coverage of this evening’s international friendly between Ireland and Bulgaria.

After the maddening, wonderful highs of a last-gasp result with Switzerland (we’re definitely counting it as a 1-1 win) we must be brought back down to earth with a standard, run-of-the-mill friendly. Such is life.

We’re well accustomed to dull affairs with Oman, Northern Ireland and the likes, but fingers crossed tonight’s game offers us plenty of talking points and excitement.

There is genuinely some scope for intrigue, especially in terms of selection. John Egan will captain Ireland for the first time tonight, making just his third senior international appearance.

He could potentially give Mick McCarthy some pause for thought battling Richard Keogh for a starting position against Georgia next month, while there will also be the headache of who we’re going to crowbar in at left-back too.

a-view-of-the-aviva-stadium-ahead-of-the-game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Enda Steven’s yellow card against the Swiss means he will miss our next qualifier in Tbilisi. Conor Hourihane will start at full-back tonight, but there is also the possibility of James McClean or Matt Doherty plugging the gap.

It will be fascinating to see how Hourihane gets on tonight, as well as James Collins, who could earn his very first senior appearance against Bulgaria. The Tipperary striker bagged an impressive 25 goals for Luton last season and lead the line up top at the Aviva.

Jack Byrne and Kieran O’Hara could also get minutes at some stage. With Bulgaria falling further and further down the FIFA World Rankings from a peak of reaching the World Cup semi-finals in 1994, there is loads of scope for a 1-0 or maybe even a 2-0 Irish win (if we’re in the mood for goals).

Georgia’s 0-0 stalemate against Denmark on Sunday injected even more optimism into Ireland’s bid to reach Euro 2020. The Boys in Green will be hoping to keep those positive vides going tonight in front of a home crowd, with all preparations building towards October’s crucial qualifier in Tbilisi.

Stick with us, kick-off at the Aviva Stadium is coming up in an hour’s time at 7.45pm.

Let’s get started with the team news…

TEAM NEWS: Mick McCarthy has decided to ring the changes for tonight’s friendly. He makes 10 changes from the 1-1 draw against Switzerland, with Conor Hourihane the only player to remain in the starting XI.

As expected, he is shifted to an experimental role at left-back. Kevin Long and captain John Egan are in the middle of defence, while Cyrus Christie comes back into the side at right full.

It’s a midfield of Josh Cullen, Alan Browne, Alan Judge, with a front three comprised of Callum O’Dowda, Scott Hogan and Ronan Curtis. Very much an experimental side, with a number of fridge and impact players getting their chance to us what they’re made of.

Ireland: Mark Travers; Cyrus Christie, Kevin Long, John Egan, Conor Hourihane; Josh Cullen, Alan Browne, Alan Judge; Callum O’Dowda, Scott Hogan, Ronan Curtis

Substitutes: Darren Randolph, Kieran O’Hara, Seamus Coleman, Enda Stevens, Shane Duffy, Richard Keogh, Glenn Whelan, James Collins, James McClean, Jack Byrne, Jeff Hendrick

How do you see tonight’s game going? Let us know below!

Poll Results:

Ireland win! #COYBIG (291)
Draw written all over it lads... (133)
Has to be a Bulgaria win (21)

In case you missed it, Tottenham striker Troy Parrott has scored a brilliant equaliser for the Ireland U21s against Sweden this evening.

Stephen Kenny’s young side have their Euro 2021 qualifying campaign off to a decent start with back-to-back wins over Luxembourg and Armenia.

Tonight’s qualifier against the Swedes was their first big test and after going a goal down, Parrott has found the back of the net to make it 1-1 with 15 minutes to go.


Ireland have come from a goal down to win 3-1 away in Sweden. Troy Parrott levelled proceedings, before Conor Masterson put Ireland ahead with a stunning header which Shane Duffy would be proud of.

The promising Spurs striker grabbed a second in injury time, a lovely scooped finish, as Stephen Kenny’s side made it three wins from three in Group 1 to stay top of the table. The future is bright!

Back to matters over at the Aviva (sigh), the national anthems have been belted out and we’re just a few moments away from kick-off. There are quite a few empty seats around the place, it has to be said.

KICK-OFF: We’re underway at the Aviva Stadium for the first half!


Promising start by Ireland here, John Egan getting on the ball and commanding play out from the back. That captain armband sure suits him. It’s incredible that this is just his third senior international cap.

john-egan-and-bozhidar-kraev Source: James Crombie/INPHO


Conor Hourihane finds space after bombing forward down the the left flank. He gets the better of Ivan Goranov and delivers a cross towards the back post, but it sails over goalkeeper Hristo Ivanov’s crossbar and away for a goal kick.


Header from defender Kristian Dimitrov following a dangerous corner swung deep into the Irish box. He has time and space on his side, completely unmarked, but his effort is right at Mark Travers who makes the save.


Ireland completely on top in terms of possession at the moment, but struggling a little bit to break this Bulgaria backline down. Alan Judge and Conor Hourihane seeing loads of the ball in promising positions.


Another free header for Bulgaria. Nikolay Dimitrov with a good delivery and his namesake Kristian Dimitrov with the effort right in front of goal, but it flies over the crossbar. Some relieved Irish faces there. John Egan let his man go a little bit too easily.

bozhidar-kraev-and-john-egan Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO


Down the other end a looping header from Alan Judge almost drops just over the bar. It’s another Hourihane delivery into the danger zone which picks out Judge. He’s not the biggest man by any means, but the Ipswich winger did well to steer an effort narrowly over.


Mick McCarthy’s men have enjoyed 72% possession so far. It’s a bit of a lacklusture affair though, it has to be said. Alan Judge finds space outside the box and let’s fly on his right foot, but his shot lacks any real power and drags comfortably into the arms of Hristo Ivanov.


Bulgaria very much being pushed back, with John Egan and Kevin Long pushing high up the pitch and stroking the ball back and forth from flank to flank. Still just one shot on target for both sides so far.

Almost a chance for Ireland. Ronan Curtis pulls into space along the right channel and curls a shot on target. He seemed to be aiming for the top corner, but his strike swings harmlessly into the arms of Ivanov.

ronan-curtis-with-georgi-pashov Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO


Alan Browne almost puts Ireland ahead. Bulgaria at sixes and sevens at the back and the ball spills to the Preston North End playmaker just inside the box. However Browne fails to make a proper connection with the ball and it spills wide of the target.


Daniel Mladenov breaks free against the run of play. He dribbles into space towards the box and pulls his left boot back ready to pull the trigger, but Josh Cullen slides in at the last moment and gets a crucial block in. Great tracking back from Cullen there.


The contrast between this game and the emphatic nature of Ireland’s U21 victory over in Sweden is quite something. One, a performance full of grit, determination and attacking flair. The other, a dull, dross, nothing affair. Granted, one is a friendly and the other an important qualifier. But still.

Five minutes to go before the interval. Not a lot of action to speak about out there and you could honestly hear a pin drop at points throughout this opening half. With a massive qualifier at the Aviva just a few days ago, maybe such a low turnout is not such a big surprise tonight. Especially given the cost.

alan-judge-with-anton-nedyalkov Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO


John Egan pulls ahead into space and tries to pick out either Scott Hogan or Ronan Curtis inside the box. But the Sheffield United man’s floated cross enters the box and drifts wide harmlessly for a goal kick.


Close! Ronan Curtis with a brilliant cross which nearly helps put Ireland ahead. He curls the ball into the box looking for the darting run of Scott Hogan at the front post, but the striker just can’t get his foot to it as goalkeeper Ivanov gathers on his line. So close.

Flag 45Mins


The referee blows his whistle and we’re halfway there. Truth be told, it’s been a struggle both on the pitch and in the stands for spectators tonight.

Not a huge amount of goalmouth action to speak of, despite Ireland dominating with the lion’s share of possession and the most shots on target (two, compared to Bulgaria’s one).

Mick McCarthy rung in the changes in his line-up, but no-one has really stood out after 45 minutes. Here’s hoping it gets better after the break.

More action to come shortly!


Second-half: We’re back underway at the Aviva Stadium!


One change for the visitors at half-time, Ivelin Popov replacing Georgi Milanov. Mick McCarthy sticks with what he’s got, but expect to see a number of substitutions as the half wears of. Jack Byrne and James Collins both very likely to get some minutes here.


I spent the break re-watching Ireland’s goals from their excellent U21 victory over in Sweden. Lovely, lovely goals scored by an exciting, promising team full of talent and hope coming from a goal down to win 3-1. Ah, a man can dream. The future is bright lads.


Good link-up play between Hourihane, Judge and Curtis down the left wing. Lots of intricate, neat passes between one another before Judge decided the time was right to cross. He tried to pick out Hogan, but his pass flies wide for a goal kick.


Ivelin Popov causing a little bit of panic inside the Ireland box. He went down claiming a penalty after two shots from Kristiyan Malinov were successfully blocked down close to goal, but the referee is not interested and waves play on.

Flag 56Mins


We have a breakthrough at Lansdowne Road! Alan Browne bags his first senior international goal and he won’t get an easier one either. It takes three shots to get past the Bulgarian goalkeeper. Ronan Curtis’ initial effort from range was parried by Ivanov. Scott Hogan tried to initial follow-up, which was saved, with the ball falling on a plate for Browne to tap into an empty net. A precise finish from all of one yard out.


You’d have to be delighted for Alan Browne. The Preston North End man has had a dreadful time with injuries always coming around the time of Ireland internationals. The Cork man has been in fine form over recent seasons at Deep Dale and finally gets his just reward in a green shirt.


Mick McCarthy makes a couple of changes straight after Browne’s goal. Jack Byrne comes on to make his senior international debut, replacing Alan Judge. James Collins also comes on to earn his first cap, replacing Scott Hogan up front.


A big, big moment for Byrne and Collins there. Both men have been in great form for Shamrock Rovers and Luton respectively and finally get their moment at the Aviva. It will mean the world to them, finally getting that first senior cap.


Ireland go in search of a second. Cyrus Christie drives forward down the right wing and pulls away into space. He takes possession outside the box and chips a great cross towards Josh Cullen, but the Charlton man’s header flies over the bar.

mick-mccarthy Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO


Jack Byrne lets fly with a right-footed shot from range. It just misses the bottom corner and flies wide, but Byrne receives a warm round of applause from the crowd for having the guts to have a pop. To his credit, the Dubliner has scored some absolute peaches this season for Shamrock Rovers from a similar range.

Flag 66Mins


The visitors will have the chance to level at the Aviva from the spot. Kraev is brought down inside the box by John Egan after Cyrus Christie invited pressure in a dangerous position inside the box. Can Mark Travers be the hero for Ireland in goal?

Flag 67Mins


Popov makes absolutely no mistake. He slams his penalty high into the net. Mark Travers dived to his right and almost got a big hand to it, but the Bulgarian striker’s effort had too much power in it and we’re all square.


A little over 20 minutes remaining for either side to try and grab a winner here. Bulgaria are at such a low ebb right now that a draw would certainly be a good, encouraging result for them. Pre-match predictions would have pointed towards an Irish win, but can Mick McCarthy’s men go up a level here and score again?


A third substitution for Ireland. James McClean, who provided the cross for David McGoldrick’s dramatic late equaliser against Switzerland, enters the fray. He replaces Conor Hourihane at left back.


A brilliant ball crossed in from Jack Byrne almost picks out James Collins inside the box, but play is halted as the Luton striker is flagged for offside by the linesman. Great vision from Byrne there to pick out the pass.


Another promising attack for Ireland thanks to some lovely footwork from Callum O’Dowda. The ball is played back to Cyrus Christie, who delivers a cross into the box, but it’s headed clear at the first hurdle by Simeon Slavchev.

callum-odowda-and-alan-judge-with-georgi-milanov Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO


Two more substitutions by Mick McCarthy with 15 minutes left to go. Kieran O’Hara gets the chance to make his first senior appearance in goals, replacing Mark Travers between the sticks. Enda Stevens also comes on for Callum O’Dowda.


Stevens takes his usual position at left-back, meaning James McClean can push on further up the wing where O’Dowda was playing. McClean’s cameo at left-back lasting just under five minutes then. He’s played there plenty this season for Stoke City, but will he line up at the back against Georgia with Stevens suspended?


The game is slowing down ever so slightly as both sides continue to empty their benches. Ten minutes to go at the Aviva, but still time chance for someone to be a late hero. Will it be Collins? Jack Byrne? Kieran O’Hara up from a corner in the 94th minute?


Christie delivers another dangerous cross towards the back post, but Wanderson snatches possession and tries to run away. James Collins regains possession and has a go at goal, forcing a corner kick.

Flag 83Mins


Ireland regain the lead! On his 12th international appearance, Kevin Long steers a low header into the back of the net beyond the reach of Ivanov. It’s really poor marking inside the box from Bulgaria. Jack Byrne delivers a dangerous ball right into the mixer and Long does really well to stick his head out and make connect. 2-1 Ireland!

Flag 86Mins


And another! Ireland pull away in the dying stages with two late goals — and what a goal it is. The Boys in Green morph into Barcelona for a few brief moments as Jack Byrne picks out Enda Stevens with a dinked pass, Stevens volleys a lovely cross into the box and debutant James Collins provides the finish. What a moment for the Tipperary man.


It’s been a much-improved second half display from Ireland here. A lacklustre opening 45 minutes in front of a sparse crowd failed to capture the imagination, but fresh bodies off the bench has reinvigorated things. Jack Byrne in particular has added a lot more intensity and vision in midfield.


Byrne crosses from a corner seeking the run of John Egan. The Sheffield United man flies across and gets his head on the ball, but his effort flies just over the top of the crossbar. Almost a fourth for Ireland, who are hungry for goals all of a sudden.


There will be two minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half.


Josh Cullen is announced as tonight’s Man of the Match. He receives a loud round of applause for a battling, determined performance in the middle of the park. He’s covered a lot of ground in attack and defence tonight. A very encouraging debut by the 23-year-old.



It’s all over as the referee blows his whistle for full-time at the Aviva Stadium. Mick McCarthy will be pleased with that second-half display as Ireland pull away late on to bag a 3-1 win.

The first half is best left forgotten as both sides struggled to produce any real moment of quality. A first international goal for Alan Browne got things up and running before Ivelin Popov levelled from the penalty spot.

Kevin Long helped Ireland regain the lead with a low header from Jack Byrne’s corner, while the Shamrock Rovers man was also instrumental in a brilliantly worked move which ended in a debut goal for James Collins.

Thanks a million for joining us for this evening’s game. You can read Gavin Cooney’s on-the-whistle report by clicking here, while you can also check out Paul Fennessy’s player ratings here too. Cya!

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher


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