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Dublin: 2°C Thursday 26 November 2020
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Ireland 0-0 Bulgaria

Hello, and welcome to tonight’s liveblog.

Ireland still are without a win in the Stephen Kenny era, and their only goal since the manager took over came in the reverse fixture for this game all the way back at the start of September.

The preparation for this match has been less than ideal for Ireland, to put it mildly.

They are without 13 of the original squad that Kenny picked — in fact, you can literally pick a team of potential starters from those missing.

Moreover, they must not lose in order to avoid relegation to the third tier of the Nations League, with Bulgaria currently trailing them by a point in the group, having lost all their matches other than the Ireland game so far.

Confirmation of the Ireland team below, with Ryan Manning handed a debut at left-back.

Hi all, Gavin Cooney at the Aviva here, taking over from Paul for a few minutes as Sky Sports experience some technical difficulties/improve their programming. 

Ireland have started in a 4-2-3-1, with Robbie Brady as the No.10 behind James Collins with Ronan Curtis on the right and Daryl Horgan left. 

The first chance of the game has fallen Bulgaria’s way, with Shane Duffy blocking a Kraev shot.

Collins’ first involvement is to win a free kick in the Bulgarian half, but Brady’s delivery is overhit and it drifts harmlessly wide. 

According to Sky, Ireland have had 63% possession so far.

They’ve yet to create any real chance of note though.

Very close!

A Curtis cross deflects just the wrong side of the post, with Collins close to getting on the end of it.

From the ensuing set piece, Horgan overhits his cross.

Ryan Manning has just been booked for a robust challenge on Delev.

He becomes the second Irish player to see yellow, after Kevin Long did for a challenge earlier.

Knight gives the ball away to Iliev, whose shot is tame and comfortably saved by Randolph.

That’s the second stray pass that has put the Irish defence under pressure, after a sloppy ball from Shane Duffy earlier.

Cicinho has just been booked for a late challenge on Curtis.

It’s been a scrappy, stop-start game so far.

Dara O’Shea makes a good run down the right.

The defender just gets to the cross ahead of Collins.

Moments later, a Brady free kick finds the head of Duffy, but he can’t get a proper header on it.

Bulgaria beat Ireland’s offside trap, with Dara O’Shea appearing to play the attacker on.

Ivanov runs through on goal, but his touch is too heavy and Randolph is able to gather it.

That’s a let-off for the hosts.

Delev’s corner finds Dimitrov, whose header hits the roof of the net.

Bulgaria have been the superior side so far.

A Robbie Brady free kick misses everybody in the box, but forces the goalkeeper Lukov to parry it away.

As is often the case, a set piece appears Ireland’s most likely source of a goal this evening.

Horgan beats Cicinho down the right, but Collins can’t find the target with his header from the winger’s lofted cross.

Better from Ireland, though the Luton star will feel he should have scored or at least worked the goalkeeper there.

Ivanov has been booked for a late challenge on Dara O’Shea.

There’s been a bit of tension between the two teams so far, with a few bad challenges being committed.

A Dara O’Shea cross finds Collins.

The Luton striker gets across his man but can’t direct a difficult header on target.

The West Brom youngster, meanwhile, has got forward well at right-back on occasion.

In case you’re wondering about the other game in this group, Wales are well on top against Finland.

Man United star Daniel James has just put them 2-0 ahead.

This second half has a similar pattern to the first.

Both sides are giving the ball away cheaply and struggling to get any real rhythm to their play.

As I type though, Collins gets on the end of O’Shea’s cross, but his volley goes inches wide.

If Ireland are going to score tonight, then the Luton man looks the most likely individual to do it.

Another chance!

It’s a driving run from midfield by Knight.

He finds Curtis, but it’s a disappointing finish, as he shoots well over from the edge of the area.

Relief for Ireland!

Randolph nearly mis-controls it when trying to take on Kraev, but he gets away with it in the end.

O’Shea’s header falls to Kraev, but the attacker can’t find the target with his volley from a tight angle.

Bulgaria then make a few changes.

Ivanov, Delev and Gusmao are off, while Kovachev, Karagaren and Vasilev are on.

Interestingly, Serbia are beating Russia 4-0, while Northern Ireland are 1-0 up against Romania.

If those results stay the same, an Ireland win would mean they are in Pot 2 for the World Cup qualification draw.

As I type, a corner falls to Dimitrov, but Duffy does enough to put him off and his shot deflects wide.

Ireland have made a change. Josh Cullen is on in place of Daryl Horgan.

That looks like it’s going to result in a system change, with Jason Knight switching to the right wing.

As I type, Brady hits the crossbar with an audacious effort from the edge of the area.

Robbie Brady has just pulled up with an injury.

That might well be the end of his night.

Brady is going to have to come off.

Jack Byrne is consequently on for a second competitive appearance on the trot, having ended a 35-wait for a League of Ireland player to do so against Wales.

A Hourihane cross deflects off Dimitrov and goes just wide.

Knight was waiting in the area, so that was a vital intervention from the defender.

Another change for Bulgaria.

Iliev is replaced by Aleksandrov, who is making his international debut.

Hourihane plays it to Manning, whose cross from the left finds the side netting.

He’s only played once this season, and so perhaps unsurprisingly, the Swansea man has gone down with cramp.

More changes for Ireland.

Maguire, Christie and Parrott are on, while Curtis, Manning and Collins go off.

jason-knight-with-aleksandar-vasilev Ireland's Jason Knight with Aleksandar Vasilev of Bulgaria. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ireland are pushing for a winner.

It looks like the wait is set to go on though.

Nice link-up play between Knight and Byrne down the left, before the latter crosses.

Maguire is in the area but can’t quite connect with the header.

Five minutes of stoppage time has been announced.

Cullen plays through Parrott, but he’s just offside.

Ireland are ending this game strongly.

Per Sky Sports, that’s 11 hours for Ireland now without a goal, which came against Bulgaria on 3 September.

On the plus side, they have avoided relegation and brought their losing run to the end.

Knight, Cullen and O’Shea were among the players to put in decent performances.

Yet it’s an ultimately frustrating climax to unsatisfying campaign.

Stephen Kenny and Ireland will be glad to see the back of 2020.

In the end, Ireland could have entered into Pot 2 for the World Cup qualifying with a win, so tonight will go down as another missed opportunity.

Right, that’s all from me.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

You can read our match report here and we’ll have more reaction to follow.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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