Armenia 1 Republic of Ireland 0
IRELAND opened up their UEFA Nations League campaign on Saturday afternoon with a disappointing defeat to Armenia at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium.
Eduard Spertsyan’s second-half goal was the difference on a blistering afternoon in Eastern Europe.
The result ends Ireland’s eight-game unbeaten run which began with last September’s 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan in Dublin.
A rotated Irish team did everything but score against Armenia. Stephen Kenny made four changes made from the country’s last competitive game, a 3-0 victory over Luxembourg last November. Caoimhín Kelleher was handed his first competitive start in Yerevan. He previously featured in four friendlies for Kenny and he came into the game on the back of an impressive season with Liverpool, which saw him win both the FA Cup and Carabao Cup.
The other noticeable change to the team was Enda Stevens starting at wing-back. The Dubliner replaced an injured Matt Doherty. Elsewhere, Troy Parrot was named in the forward line and Nathan Collins was put into the defence.
The team had to work hard from the whistle as the home side nearly scored inside five minutes. Kamo Hovhannisyan won the ball in midfield and his low shot was palmed out for a corner by Kelleher.
The set-piece was dealt with Shane Duffy and when the loose ball was collected by Eduard Spertsya, the defender slid in to put the ball out for a throw-in.
Duffy’s clearance seemed to settle the Irish nerves and they quickly dominated the game after the Derry defender’s good work.
Ireland’s first chance of the game came from a low cross put in by Chiedozie Ogbene. The winger collected Jeff Hendrick’s through ball and he set up Callum Robinson, who kicked it towards goal. Hovhannes Hambartsumyan dived in and fumbled this out for a corner, and this came to nothing.
Another opening saw a deep cross from Parrot get limply punched clear by David Yurchenko. Seamus Coleman won the loose ball and he tried to dribble into space. The Armenian defence closed down, and ran him wide, before a throw-in was given.
Ireland’s best chance in the first half came from an excellent run by Robinson. He dribbled into the box and Yurchenko came off his line. The Preston forward squared to Ogbene who shot narrowly wide.
A free-kick found the winger in the closing seconds of the first half and an unmarked Ogbene headed over.
Armenia had a new lease of life after the break and forced a number of chances early in the half.
Hambartsumyan was the first player to get into a good position, and his shot was blocked by Duffy. Then Tigran Barseghyan curled the ball into the top right corner and as the winger ran away celebrating, the goal was ruled out over an offside in the build-up.
Barseghyan’s next venture into the Irish half ended with him getting into a good position and curling the ball went well over.
Ireland sobered up after this shock to this system and they re-established themselves as the dominant team. Two big chances fell to Duffy after Irish corners; one was caught by the Armenian goalkeeper and the other went narrowly wide.
The general feeling in the ground was that a goal was coming, and it did arrive in the 75th minute. Spertsyan danced through the centre of the pitch and from distance, he fired in to give Armenia the lead.
Kenny responded by bringing by replacing Josh Cullen and Seamus Coleman with Alan Browne and Will Keane.
Ireland pushed up and were given a free-kick which Jeff Hendrick took. The midfielder’s ball went straight to John Egan and he headed over. Another opening came from an Ogbene cross but there was no one in a position to get a touch.
Egan joined the forward line in injury time and he broke down a number of balls to the Irish attack. Almost everything that the defender touched was swatted away by the Armenian defence.
The home side launched long balls forward, trying to break, but everything was dealt with by Kelleher.
The Liverpool shot-stopper acted in a similar role to his club as he spent the majority of the game passing out from the back. This was vital to the team’s push for an equaliser in added time.
Kenny’s team don’t have time to dwell on the result in Armenia as they have a game against Ukraine on Wednesday at the Aviva Stadium and that will be followed by a meeting with Scotland in Dublin next Saturday.