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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018
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Brilliant Randolph ensures Ireland avoid Dublin defeat to the North

The goalkeeper produced a couple of outstanding saves in a goalless draw at the Aviva Stadium.

Shane Duffy congratulates Darren Randolph after making a crucial save Ireland's Shane Duffy congratulates Darren Randolph after a save. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Republic of Ireland 0
Northern Ireland 0

Paul Dollery reports from the Aviva Stadium

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland have now gone three games without finding the net after this evening’s friendly against Northern Ireland ended goalless.

Played in front of a 31,241 attendance at the Aviva Stadium, a draw was as much as Martin O’Neill’s side deserved as they warmed up for Monday’s night’s concluding Uefa Nations League fixture against Denmark in Aarhus.

Stuart Dallas with Darragh Lenihan Stuart Dallas beats Darragh Lenihan to a header. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Following another display which lacked sustained periods of possession and goalscoring opportunities, Ireland had Darren Randolph largely to thank for ensuring they avoided defeat to their neighbours. The Middlesbrough goalkeeper produced outstanding saves in one-on-one situations in each half. 

Martin O’Neill made six changes in personnel to the Ireland team that started last month’s defeat to Wales, one of which was a first international start for Blackburn Rovers defender Darragh Lenihan, who endured a difficult evening. Having recently recovered from injury, Robbie Brady returned to the green jersey for the first time in a year.

Glenn Whelan marked his 85th and final cap by wearing the captain’s armband, before a pre-arranged farewell late in the first half when he left the field to a standing ovation.

Glenn Whelan is substituted Glenn Whelan bids farewell. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland again set up in a variation of a 3-5-2 formation. After impressing in his early outings in international football, Callum Robinson led the attack, while namesake O’Dowda floated between the Preston North End forward and the midfield.

Once the anthems were out of the way — ‘God Save the Queen’ drowned out by the jeers of many among the home support — Ireland made a marginally brighter start but without engineering anything significant in their pursuit of an opening goal.

Northern Ireland soon settled into the contest, however, as the retention of possession came much easier to the visitors. They would have taken the lead in the 14th minute, were it not for some excellent goalkeeping from Randolph.

James McClean with Michael Smith James McClean is tackled by Michael Smith. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Following a miscalculation from Shane Duffy, Liam Boyce released Stuart Dallas, who then squared the ball to the unmarked Gavin Whyte. Randolph swiftly rushed from his goal to smother Whyte’s effort, much to the disappointment of the vocal section of visiting fans occupying the Havelock Square End.

Randolph wasn’t called into action again until the 41st minute, when Lenihan was nearly punished for a poor attempt at a cross into the Northern Ireland box. Michael O’Neill’s side were quick on the break, exploiting Lenihan’s absence from the right side of Ireland’s defence, but Randolph’s save from Dallas was relatively comfortable.

The majority of the second quarter was played inside Ireland’s half, with Martin O’Neill’s team struggling to hold onto the ball long enough to construct anything meaningful in attack.

Ronan Curtis with Jamal Lewis Ronan Curtis tangles with Jamal Lewis. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dallas, Craig Cathcart, Steven Davis and George Saville all had efforts that failed to test Randolph, although the Ireland stopper would have been relieved to see a fine strike from Michael Smith sail inches over the crossbar just before the break.

Ireland’s best chances during the opening period were both products of dead-ball deliveries from Robbie Brady. A downward header from former Northern Ireland underage international Duffy had to be pushed over the bar by Bailey Peacock-Farrell. Lenihan’s header later in the half went straight at the Leeds United goalkeeper.

Martin O’Neill introduced in-form Portsmouth attacker Ronan Curtis for his international debut at half-time. Sean Maguire was also sprung from the bench later on as O’Neill sought to freshen up Ireland’s offensive approach, but the Preston striker  — who has been hampered by hamstring injuries in the past year — hobbled off 13 minutes later.

Sean Maguire with Martin O’Neill after being substituted off Sean Maguire goes off injured. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In the 59th minute, Callum Robinson got on the end of James McClean’s low cross but couldn’t direct it on target, the ball having been delivered at him at a blistering pace. Unfortunately for Ireland, that was as good as it got in the second half.

Again, Northern Ireland were much more fluent and effective in attack, but they were kept out by a couple of vital interventions from Randolph.

First, he had to react quickly to punch away a brilliantly executed volleyed cross from Michael Smith while Boyce was lurking nearby. Moments later he won another duel, this time with substitute Jordan Jones, after Lenihan had been robbed of possession deep inside Ireland’s half.

Darren Randolph saves a shot from Jordan Jones Darren Randolph denies Jordan Jones. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

To no great surprise, Randolph was announced as Ireland’s man of the match as the game drew to a close, although he faced little competition for the award. When the full-time whistle was met by a chorus of boos, they certainly weren’t directed at the Ireland goalkeeper.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Darragh Lenihan (Cyrus Christie, 84), Shane Duffy, John Egan; Seamus Coleman, Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan (captain) (Conor Hourihane, 36), Robbie Brady, James McClean (Enda Stevens, 66); Callum O’Dowda (Ronan Curtis, HT); Callum Robinson (Sean Maguire, 66) (Scott Hogan, 79).

NORTHERN IRELAND: Bailey Peacock-Farrell; Michael Smith (Jamie Ward, 74), Craig Cathcart, Jonny Evans, Jamal Lewis; Steven Davis (captain), George Saville; Gavin Whyte (Jordan Jones, 61), Corry Evans (Paddy McNair, 65), Stuart Dallas; Liam Boyce (Kyle Lafferty, 71).

Referee: Slavko Vincic (Slovenia).

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Paul Dollery

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