Rocky start for new regime as Hendrick helps Ireland to win ugly
Gibraltar 0 Ireland 1
A goal, and a win, for the Republic of Ireland at last, after a long spell without either of those concepts coming their way.
But the pain that comes with watching Ireland remains very much intact, yesterday's 1-0 win away to Gibraltar a test of endurance, not a feast for the eyes.
The idea that replacing the manager will automatically cure all the ills in Ireland's game was blown to shreds in the howling winds of Gibraltar, Mick McCarthy facing a very, very stiff test to make this team a force again, a bigger challenge on the way on Tuesday at home to a Georgia side who have always caused bother to Ireland.
The strong wind and the plastic pitch were factors in the overall poor quality of the game and the Irish display, but the lack of real chances on goal, the absence of fluid play, and the fact that Ireland took off a striker and replaced him with a defensive midfielder with almost 20 minutes to go, to shore up and protect a 1-0 lead against the second-worst team in Europe, summed up the awfulness of the evening.
Even when Ireland scored, having just survived a major scare when Darren Randolph pulled off a superb save to deny Gibraltar what would have been the biggest goal of their time as an international team, they failed to kick on and make their supposed superiority count. In fact, Gibraltar looked like the brighter side in the last 15 minutes, the classy Liam Walker with the potential to score and make himself a hero on the Rock.
But for Ireland, it was scrappy stuff, summed up by needless yellow cards for James McClean and Enda Stevens, bookings that could prove costly down the road in this campaign, though Mick McCarthy will be pleased to have come away with a win.
The result is of course all that matters in the end but the evening in Gibraltar was deeply frustrating, especially in the first half. Ireland owned possession for long spells with Gibraltar unable to do much with the ball in the brief periods when they had it, as you'd expect from a side who are ranked so low.
And during the half-time break, with no goals scored, Ireland fans will have wondered if this was one of the worst matches they had ever seen. The home crowd had certainly enjoyed it more, with coach Julio Ribas gathering his players and backroom staff for a quick team talk on the pitch, followed by high-fives, before they headed for the safety of the dressing room.
Gibraltar had 'keeper Kyle Goldwin to thank on a couple of occasions for keeping them in the game, but the lack of sharpness in the Irish side was as much a factor.
For the first half hour, it was a series of half-chances and fluffed passes with Ireland fighting a losing battle with the wind. TV coverage could hardly convey to fans watching at home just how strong the wind was. It wasn't even a case of playing one half against the wind, knowing it would be with you in the second half as the gales had no pattern or direction, just whipping around this tiny stadium which is on a rock at the mouth of the Mediterranean.
It took a full 15 minutes for any sort of threat to come from the away side, Conor Hourihane's free-kick causing some panic in the Gibraltar box before the moment went away, while on 25 minutes David McGoldrick launched an effort which was caught by the wind and fizzled out of play.
Ireland came closest to a lead goal on 29 minutes, when a mix-up between defenders Joseph Chipolina and Anthony Hernandez gifted the ball to Coleman, his cross landed on the head of captain Roy Chipolina and would have gone in for an own goal, only for 'keeper Goldwin to make the save. A minute later, a poor goal-kick from Goldwin saw the ball land kindly for James McClean, he tried to play in McGoldrick but the effort was saved. Wide men Coleman and Doherty tried their best, almost all of the Irish attacks coming from the right, but not enough to trouble the 'keeper.
Being scoreless at half-time looked bad for the away side but it could have been worse as seconds into the second half, Gibraltar came very close to a goal, a corner from Liam Walker which was met with a header by Roy Chipolina, and only for a reaction save from Randolph it would have been a goal which would have plunged Irish football to a new low.
Two minutes later, Ireland had their response, that goal from Hendrick, the first in five games from the Republic. James McClean, on the break, played in McGoldrick and his cross was met with a shot from Hendrick, only the second international goal of his career.
That turned out to be the high point as Ireland laboured after that, struggling with the wind, unable to get service into a lonely Seán Maguire who was replaced by Harry Arter for that tactical change. Walker, one of the seven home-based players in their side, upped his game in the latter stages, Ireland looking nervy without Randolph being too troubled.
Songs and a banner among the home support about FAI CEO John Delaney only added to the strangeness of the night, a night Ireland will not treasure but hope to forget. You'd just wonder what Martin O'Neill made of it all.
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