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Dublin: 7°C Monday 1 March 2021

Second-half Brooks header means toothless Ireland lose again

Wales were 1-0 winners in Cardiff, as Stephen Kenny’s bad start to international management went on.

Wales 1

Republic of Ireland 0

THE WEEK THAT brought Donald Trump’s election defeat and a potentially game changing Covid-19 vaccine couldn’t deliver a goal for the Republic of Ireland. 

Instead it brought another Nations League defeat according to a grimly familiar pattern. Ireland were the better side for swathes of the game without carving out any real goalscoring chances and then conceded mid-way through the second half. 

david-brooks-scores-a-close-range-header David Brooks scores. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

This is now deja vu happening all over again. Ireland twice lost 1-0 to Finland by conceding on minutes 63 and 66; tonight they lost to Wales to a goal on minute 65. 

It was scored by David Brooks from close range, the last touch of a piece of penalty area pinball after Wales switched up their system. It was an instant return on investment for the stand-in boss Robert Page, the kind Kenny is growing desperate for, as the positive signs in Ireland’s approach and attitude become lost beneath the din of bad results. 

Ireland are now winless in his seven games in charge, having scored just a single goal.

They host Bulgaria in Dublin on Wednesday needing a draw to avoid relegation, and more desperately need a goal to snap a scoreless run that has now stretched to six games, the worst run in Irish football history.

By the time they kick off against Bulgaria, Ireland will have gone exactly a year without scoring a competitive goal from open play. 

The now-typical clatter of injuries and unavailability forced Kenny into changes for this game, with Kevin Long brought in for John Egan at centre-back and Dara O’Shea shifting to left-back to allow Matt Doherty revert to the other flank. 

Robbie Brady and James McClean were introduced to the Irish attack and offered zip and   creativity. McClean won an early free-kick which Brady whipped to the back post, at which Shane Duffy threw himself but made minimal contact. 

The two then combined for the only shot on target of the first half, as Brady chipped a ball over the top of the Welsh defence onto which McClean latched before shooting at Ward from a narrow angle. It was an ambitious effort at the end of a clever diagonal run by McClean; the type of movement his manager has been asking for. 

Earlier, Brady himself sent a shot whistling over the bar after Neco Williams contorted himself to cut out a Daryl Horgan cross to McClean. 

Wales, meanwhile, were doing their familiarly average turn, and were struggling to involve Bale. Their best chance of the half came when Bale finally got a sight of goal, when he sent a long-range free whipping and dipping through the air before clipping the top of Darren Randolph’s crossbar. 

Ireland left for half-time the better side and with a sense of grievance: Wales midfielder Joe Morrell was booked rather than sent off for a kicking out at Jayson Molumby, who himself was shown a yellow card that rules him out of Wednesday’s game with Bulgaria.

Kenny’s main complaint from the Wembley plight was Ireland’s passivity, but that charge couldn’t be levelled at them here. They snapped into tackle and hogged the ball, but, yet again, struggled to mint these intangibles. 

Stand-in Wales boss Robert Page reacted to the strong Irish start by changing his system, introducing striker Kiefer Moore and switching to a 4-2-3-1. 

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It soon made a difference. A cross from Dan James on the right flank was flicked over his own head by the retreating Duffy, but Bale – relocated to the left-wing – jumped high above Matt Doherty with spring-loaded calves to head the ball back across the box where David Brooks diverted it in from all of a yard out. 

shane-duffy-reacts-after-receiving-a-yellow-card A frustrated Shane Duffy. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Kenny reacted by withdrawing Molumby and Idah for Hourihane and Collins, and the latter showed his intent by shooting with his first touch. Albeit tamely, and from distance. Collins then drew a foul from Williams on the edge of the box…that ended with Randolph denying Brooks a second goal.

Brady’s ball into the penalty area was cleared 40 yards to Jeff Hendrick, who inexplicably decided to shoot first time. It was blocked, Hendrick then made a hames of controlling the ball when it came back at him, and Brooks sprinted clear only to be denied one-on-one by the Irish goalkeeper.

Kenny then made his final play, hooking O’Shea and Brady for Callum O’Dowda and Jack Byrne, the latter becoming the first League of Ireland player to appear in a competitive Irish international since 1985. 

Byrne found himself some space within minutes of his introduction and slipped the ball through for Collins, who again shot first time. Albeit again tamely, and again from distance.

Ireland ended the game utterly ragged, and substitute Kiefer Moore might have added a second in injury time had he not shot lamely at Randolph.

The night got worse, again cleaving to a familiar sight as Ireland finished with 10 men against Wales for the second-straight game as Jeff Hendrick slid in as the last man and fouled Tyler Roberts. 

He will miss the Bulgaria game now too, which has become a game freighted with exactly the wrong kind of meaning.

Stephen Kenny’s turbulent introduction to the top job gets bumpier still.

Wales: Danny Ward; Neco Williams; Chris Mepham, Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon; Ben Davies; Joe Morrell, Rhys Norrington-Davies (Kiefer Moore, 60′); Daniel James, David Brooks (Tyler Roberts 89′), Gareth Bale (captain)

Republic of Ireland: Darren Randolph; Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy (captain), Kevin Long, Dara O’Shea (Callum O’Dowda, 82′); Jeff Hendrick, Jayson Molumby (Conor Hourihane, 74′); Daryl Horgan (Jason Knight, 58′), Robbie Brady (Jack Byrne, 81′), James McClean; Adam Idah (James Collins, 74′)

Referee: Petr Ardeleanu (CZE)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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