The nine long-range goals conceded by Ireland since 2021 – and why a Glenn Whelan-type player can stem the flow
Ireland’s two long-range concessions against Latvia last Wednesday were the latest additions to an unwelcome trend which has been developing under Stephen Kenny.
Robert Uldrikis’ 30-yard thunderbolt was followed by Arturs Zjuzins equaliser and Kenny will be concerned as to how his side are conceding an unusually high number of strikes from outside the box.
After the friendly win, Andrew Cuneen of Stats Perform flagged Ireland’s knack of shipping goals from distance, and the statistics speak for themselves.
Since the beginning of 2021, Ireland have conceded 23 goals with nine coming from efforts outside the box.
That means 39pc of Ireland’s concessions have come from shots outside the box, a high among European nations since 2021, and far higher than Scotland next below them on 26pc.
Ireland’s attacking shape leaves them vulnerable to counter-attacks at times, but Kenny insists he won’t be abandoning his style as a result of the worrying pattern.
“They are not all connected. Some of the earlier goals could have been closed down a lot better. But sometimes a goal is scored like that, it’s just an incredible goal. It’s not something we need to become overly fixated on,” said the Ireland boss this week.
With World Cup runners-up France visiting a sold-out Lansdowne Road on Monday, Kenny’s side can’t afford to ship similar goals from distance if they are to get a result in the opening Euro 2024 qualifier.
“You can imagine how much better Stephen’s record would be if we weren’t conceding these types of goals,” former League of Ireland title-winning goalkeeper David Henderson told Independent.ie.
“All the unseen work players like Glenn Whelan did, no one seems to do that anymore. In those types of situations, you just need to stop the shot and that’s what Glenn did. Declan Rice does it for England too, it’s so important in the modern game. People think it’s easy but it’s not.
“It’s great being expansive in possession, but out of possession someone needs to close down and stop that danger. You can’t be reacting after the event.
“Against France, they need to delegate someone to get out there and stop the shots, or at least drive them wide. I don’t think that’s been happening often enough.”
So is it a lack of pressure, are individual errors costing Ireland is it just unusually bad luck? Here are the nine.
1 - Aleksander Mitrovic (Serbia) March 2021
Ireland’s opening World Cup qualifier two years ago ended in defeat in Belgrade, as Aleksandar Mitrovic caught Mark Travers off his line from 35 yards with an expert chip. Travers was caught in no man's land and couldn’t get back in time, as the Serb put the hosts ahead in the 3-2 win.
2 - Gerson Rodrigues (Luxembourg) March 2021
Ireland’s hopes of reaching Qatar suffered a huge blow at just the second hurdle, as Rodrigues’ fine 85th minute strike earned three points for the visitors at an empty Aviva Stadium. Josh Cullen’s challenge proved unsuccessful as the ball fell into the attacker’s path. Enda Stevens stood off for a split second, but that’s all he needed to rifle it beyond Gavin Bazunu.
3 - Emin Mahmudov (Azerbaijan) September 2021
Shane Duffy’s late header helped them avoid an embarrassing defeat to Azerbaijan in Qatar qualifying. Captain Seámus Coleman affords the midfielder an age to line up a strike. Granted, you don’t expect him to hit the top corner from 35 yards, but that’s no excuse for not closing down the space quicker.
4 - Eduard Spertsyan (Armenia) June 2022
Ireland’s recent Nations League opener ended with defeat in Yerevan, courtesy of Spertsyan’s stunner, struck from a similar area as Mahmudov’s. The attacking midfielder wins possession back and is allowed to roam forward unchallenged for six seconds before unleashing a rocket past Caoimhín Kelleher. Josh Cullen tracks back but drops off, as does Jeff Hendrick, allowing Spertsyan a big pocket of space to shoot.
5 - Viktor Tsyhankov's (Ukraine) June 2022
Four days after Yerevan, Ireland shipped another long-range strike, this time from a set-piece in a 1-0 defeat to Ukraine. Tsyhankov sent in a curling free-kick from out near the sideline, as Kelleher decided to remain on his goalline. John Egan and Duffy couldn’t clear in time either as the ball bounced inside the six-yard box and nestled in the far corner
6 - Artak Dashyan (Armenia) September 2022
Bazunu manages to tip Tigran Barseghyan’s effort on to the post. Nathan Collins fails to clear the rebound before the unmarked Dashyan charges forward to smack the ball into the bottom corner, with Matt Doherty’s attempted block a fraction too late.
7 - Eduard Spertsyan (Armenia) September 2022
Spertsyan hit Armenia’s second goal in as many minutes courtesy of Conor Hourihane’s costly individual error. Under no pressure, the Corkman gifted the ball to Spertsyan who ran on and curled it into Gavin Bazunu’s bottom corner, a goal which could easily have been avoided in the 3-2 win.
8 - Roberts Uldrikis (Latvia) March 2023
Matt Doherty coughs up possession on the halfway line, allowing Vladislavs Sorokins to charge forward. Although Will Smallbone is tracking Sorokins, Jayson Molumby commits too, leaving Uldrikis unmarked in space to beat Kelleher with a 30-yard thunderbolt.
9 - Arturs Zjuzins (Latvia) March 2023
Latvia levelled on the stroke of half-time as Dara O’Shea and Callum O’Dowda attempted to clear the same ball, as the tame effort dropped to Zjuzins who volleyed home from the edge of the area via a Nathan Collins deflection.
“He’s standing in the ‘D’ for a long time with nobody near him. Someone has to take responsibility,” added Henderson, whose brother Wayne won six caps for Ireland.
“Kelleher should have saved it. I think he was caught by surprise, he took an extra step and went with the wrong hand. Match sharpness comes into play too.”