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Hard to find positives after a dismal display

Dave Devereux


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Chiedozie Ogbene of the Republic of Ireland gets to the ball ahead of Arman Hovhannisyan of Armenia during the UEFA Nations League B group 1 match between Armenia and Republic of Ireland at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Chiedozie Ogbene of the Republic of Ireland gets to the ball ahead of Arman Hovhannisyan of Armenia during the UEFA Nations League B group 1 match between Armenia and Republic of Ireland at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Chiedozie Ogbene of the Republic of Ireland gets to the ball ahead of Arman Hovhannisyan of Armenia during the UEFA Nations League B group 1 match between Armenia and Republic of Ireland at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

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The Republic of Ireland’s stuttering performance against Armenia in Yerevan on Saturday in their Nations League opener was a bit like the weather in my neck of the woods over the bank holiday weekend.

Every now and then the sun teased us with an occasional promise of breaking through the foreboding clouds, but mostly it was either dismally overcast and threatening to rain, or already pelting it down.

Similarly, Stephen Kenny’s struggling outfit offered a glimpse or two that there may be an end product to all their huffing and puffing, but in the end it was as miserable as the brutal offerings from the skies above.

Remarkably Ireland have failed to win in eleven attempts in the Nations League, but this was probably the most embarrassing result of them all, considering the hosts had lost 9-0 to Norway in a friendly last time out.

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Eduard Spertsyan’s long-range winner in the 75th minute brought Ireland’s eight-game unbeaten run to an end, and the losers can have few complaints, because, despite dominating possession for long periods, they were as blunt as a well-worn, rusty hacksaw when it came to creating clearcut chances.

At times the movement up front was good, but too many sloppy passes from midfield and hopeful balls out from the back made it easy for the Armenian defence.

That said, at half-time you would have expected Ireland to kick on, having been the better side in the first-half. It was far from brilliant, but they could well have been ahead, with Callum Robinson seeing his scuffed shot cleared off the line, while Ireland’s most threatening player, Chiedozie Ogbene, wasted a good opportunity when heading over the crossbar.

However, the visitors were poor after the interval and were punished for their sluggishness when Spertsyan hammered the ball in off the post past Caoimhín Kelleher from 25 yards.

Maybe the energy-sapping, sweltering conditions could be used as an excuse for the lethargy of the second-half, but really Ireland need to be putting away sides of this calibre if they harbour any hopes of climbing up the international ladder.

Having appeared to have turned a corner following a start to his tenure that was rockier than the Himalayas, it was a case of one step forward and two steps back for the under-fire Stephen Kenny after a toothless display.

On paper Armenia would have been seen as the weakest team in the group, so to lose to the perceived whipping boys is a nightmare way for the campaign to begin.

After being toppled by minnows, the manager will be looking for positives anywhere he can find them, and he may get crumbs of comfort from the fact that Ireland’s next opponents are Ukraine, whose exertions in their World Cup qualifying battles with Scotland and Wales will surely mean that they won’t be fully wound up for this evening’s encounter.

They can consider themselves seriously unfortunate not to have booked their place in Qatar, with Wayne Hennessey making a string of saves to deny them as Andriy Yarmolenko’s own goal was enough for Wales to end their 64-year wait to appear at a World Cup.

They were also denied what looked a certain penalty, and it will be hard for them to get themselves up for a Nations League game after suffering such a massive disappointment.

However, the Ukraine players are technically so much better than Ireland, and if they can regroup in time for their visit to the Aviva it’s bound to be a long night for the home team.

If the Boys in Green fail to get anything from that game, the Nations League campaign will already look to be in tatters ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Scotland in the Aviva and the trip to Poland for a follow-up meeting with Ukraine.

The fact that Ireland get the chance to put things right so quickly can be considered a blessing, but if things go pear-shaped it will be more of a curse ahead of the summer break.

The next two home games, in the space of four days, could make or break this current Irish set-up. If things go well the project is back on track, but if not the call for the manager’s head will grow louder and louder.

How the players react to Saturday’s dismal defeat will certainly speak volumes.

Ultimately, they’re the ones who will seal Kenny’s fate and determine whether the dark clouds will linger, or part to reveal a bright, shimmering sun.


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