Nations League: Ireland's struggle to find the net goes on

John Roycroft points out that our early confidence ahead of the Nations League campaign has been rudely brought back to reality due to our lack of quality finishers 
Nations League: Ireland's struggle to find the net goes on

 Chiedozie Ogbene of Republic of Ireland in action against Kamo Hovhannisyan of Armenia during the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 match at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

LAST Saturday, I warned against fans expecting too much from the growing optimism surrounding Stephen Kenny's management of the senior Irish squad.

We questioned why Kenny cut a stick to beat himself by saying that Ireland would be looking to win their Nations League group before a ball even got kicked. We fretted over tired Irish players after a long season, and we worried whether Ireland's perennial inability to make the most against weaker opponents would see us struggle, once again, to put away an inferior ranked side with ease.

Seven days and two matches later, we face Scotland at the Aviva tonight, with no points and no goals at the bottom of the  League B, Group 1 table, and with the prospect of relegation far more realistic than winning the group.

In both matches, against Armenia and Ukraine, we managed to start brightly and end the game putting all the pressure on our opponents. The only problem was the hour or so in between both spells of domination, where we lost the initiative and went a goal down in each match. This, in turn, required the frantic all-hands-on-deck finish in both matches, which came close but was ultimately unsuccessful in salvaging a draw in either game.

Ireland’s Jason Knight reacts to a missed chance  during the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 match against  Ukraine at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Ireland’s Jason Knight reacts to a missed chance  during the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 match against  Ukraine at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Bright starts

In both matches, we started brightly. In the Armenia game, Cork's Chiedozie Ogbene had a brilliant game, especially in the opening 20 minutes, where he got himself to the end line on several occasions, only for his cutback ball into the box to go straight to Armenian defenders. There just wasn't enough effort pushing people forward to take advantage of the opportunities. As the Armenian defence wised up to the threat and as Ogbene tired, the threat waned and Ireland slipped out of control of the game.

It was similar in the Ukraine game. Ogbene, Jason Knight, and Callum Robinson were all over the inexperienced Ukraine defence early on, pressurising them into silly mistakes whenever they tried to play out from their own goal. And it looked like it was only a matter of time before Ireland got its opener. Sadly the final pass in the Ukrainian third of the field never found its Irish target or simple errors saw us miss our chance to exploit our position.

As time passed, our pressing game fell off its early pace and we failed to make the breakthrough. All the while, the Ukrainian confidence grew and when they scored their goal, albeit from a rather fortunate bounce, It was not surprising to us watching the game from home that it started to take on the familiar look of previous defeats.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny before the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 match against  Armenia at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny before the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 match against  Armenia at Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium in Yerevan, Armenia. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Frantic finish

After the game, Stephen Kenny bemoaned that we didn't get anything out of two close games. And to that extent, the statistics in both games, especially against Armenia, read that we did well in possession, passes and attempts on goal. But our lack of constructive use of our possession to build into attack makes the stats look deceptive. Indeed, our defeats, especially at the hands of Ukraine, was more emphatic than at first glance or what the stats indicate.

The frantic finish in both matches, where we came close to equalising on a couple of occasions, makes the stats look closer but only provided us with the information that maybe we need to send our centre backs up front earlier than we have so far.

That Shane Duffy looked the most likely to score in each game does little to fill the fans with confidence or bode well for this evening's game against the Scots.

Ireland’s Shane Duffy has his header saved by goalkeeper Andriy Lunin of Ukraine during the UEFA Nations League B group 1 match at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. 
Ireland’s Shane Duffy has his header saved by goalkeeper Andriy Lunin of Ukraine during the UEFA Nations League B group 1 match at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. 

There was a line from some fans before these summer Nation League ties about what we could achieve if we had a Robbie Keane in this team. Sadly, the last couple of games have harshly exposed how badly this side could do with having a natural finisher any where near the quality of Robbie Keane.

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