Ireland 0 Wales 0
THE Republic of Ireland claimed their second point in Group four of the UEFA Nations League as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Despite another promising performance, it is another game without a goal for Stephen Kenny’s weakened Irish side and they remain five points behind their opponents who stay top.
Ireland’s preparations for the game were severely affected as five players were ruled out after one member of the squad - whose identity has yet to be confirmed - tested positive for Covid-19.
As a result, Cork duo John Egan and Alan Browne were ruled out of the match, while fellow Leesider Kevin Long and former Cork City striker Shane Long, were among the players called into the starting 11.
Bandon's Conor Hourihane kept his place in midfield following the disappointing loss to Slovakia on penalties in the Euro 2021 playoff semi-final in midweek while Mahon’s Caoimhín Kelleher was again named on the substitutes bench alongside former City forward Sean Maguire, who was called up to replace Adam Idah.
It came as no surprise that this match - played in front of an empty Aviva Stadium - started slowly although the Boys in Green did look more assured in possession.
After good work through the middle by the lively Jayson Molumby, Robbie Brady’s dangerous cross was headed clear before the Burnley man decided to have a shot at goal on 18 minutes but that was blocked following a neat move involving Enda Stevens and Jeff Hendrick.
Kenny’s side soon suffered another blow as Ballyphehane native Kevin Long, who was hoping to make an impression on the new manager in his 14th appearance for his country, was forced to withdraw after being struck by an elbow which caused severe swelling above his eye.
Wales came into this game sitting at the top of the group thanks to their narrow 1-0 wins away to Finland and at home against Bulgaria back in September.
It was almost two years to the day since their last visit to Dublin in this competition and they also emerged 1-0 victors on that evening thanks to a stunning free-kick from Harry Wilson.
And the Liverpool winger had the game’s first shot on target midway through the first half. His neat one-two with Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey created space for a shot on the edge of the penalty area but his curler was well saved by the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
The Republic regrouped following that let off and they twice went close to breaking the deadlock with shots from distance shortly before the half time break.
First, Robbie Brady was inches away from finding the top left corner from 20 yards after cleverly cutting back onto his stronger left foot moments before substitute Cyrus Christie fired over the crossbar from a similar position.
The Welsh upped the tempo at the beginning of the second period but it was the Irish that should’ve edged in front with 55 minutes on the clock as Shane Long was guilty of spurning a glorious opportunity.
Enda Steven’s floated cross from the left flank picked out the run of Long but the number nine sent his header over the bar from eight yards with only the keeper to beat.
Former Cork City attackers Sean Maguire and Daryl Horgan were brought on with 16 minutes remaining and the latter almost immediately made a dream impact.
James McClean’s delivery was headed towards the far bottom left corner by Horgan and after it was blocked the Wycombe Wanderers winger blasted the rebound over from a good position.
McClean was sent off for a second bookable offence late on and with a man less, Ireland couldn’t force a winner despite their best efforts.
Darren Randolph, Matt Doherty, Kevin Long, Shane Duffy, Enda Stevens, Conor Hourihane, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, James McClean, Jayson Molumby, Shane Long.
Subs: Cyrus Christie for Kevin Long (25 inj), Sean Maguire for Shane Long (74), Daryl Horgan for Robbie Brady (74), Josh Cullen for Jayson Molumby (89).
Wayne Hennessy, Ben Davies, Joe Rodon, Harry Wilson, Aaron Ramsey, Kieffer Moore, Connor Roberts, Ethan Ampadu, Joe Morrell, Matthew Smith, Daniel James.
Subs: Neco Williams for Harry Wilson (67), Dylan Levitt for Matthew Smith (67), David Brooks for Daniel James (77).
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou (Greece).