Nations League: Are lessons being learned?

Once again Ireland's performance looked better than results suggest. John Roycroft wonders if Irish boss Stephen Kenny can blend his playing ideology with a successful qualification campaign.
Nations League: Are lessons being learned?

Ireland's John Egan celebrates scoring his side's first goal  against Armenia with Jason Knight

So what have we learned after this Nations League campaign?

Well, for one, if only we could play teams equal or better than us, we would have a good chance of winning them all. Facing lower-ranked or weaker teams seems to be the Boys in Green kryptonite.

Secondly, From now on, let's be careful before we pronounce that we are here to win groups outright. Or at least until we have learned how to convincingly beat a team currently placed 92 in the Fifa rankings.

Following Ireland at the moment has a Schrodinger's cat feel to it. Simultaneously, we are enjoying the progress made by the team's style of playing out from the back. All the while experiencing dread and frustration at the side's inability to live up to expectations.

Ireland's Michael Obafemi shoots to score his side's second goal against Armenia during the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 match at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Picture:  Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ireland's Michael Obafemi shoots to score his side's second goal against Armenia during the UEFA Nations League B Group 1 match at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Picture:  Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The high from our home victory over Scotland, back in July, came to a crushing conclusion at Hampden Park, on Saturday. Despite taking the lead, thanks to a set-piece header from Cork's John Egan, and having the best chances during a highly entertaining game, we came up short thanks to conceding a late penalty from some rather goofy defending.

Still, most of us believed that if we performed at the same level against the Armenians on Tuesday, we would win comfortably.

And so it seemed after the first hour. While struggling to break down the five-man Armenian backline, we managed to get our noses in front from another John Egan set-piece goal and a great turn and score from Michael Obafemi.

Déjà Vu

But once again, our habit of underperforming against weaker sides came back to haunt us. And in a crazy three-minute period, allowed the Eastern Europeans back into the game with two quick-fire goals.

So, for 10 uncomfortable minutes, we diced with the prospect of embarrassing relegation from League B. But thankfully, due to risky Armenian defending and VAR, we got out of jail, and Robbie Brady converted the 91st-minute winner from the spot.

Still, thank God for VAR for sparing our blushes.

Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland shoots to score his side's third goal against Armenua from a penalty, Picture:Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Robbie Brady of Republic of Ireland shoots to score his side's third goal against Armenua from a penalty, Picture:Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

So we survived. Which was good, as slipping out of League B would have added more pressure on our chances of qualifying for Euro 24. And as we have seen, we are far from comfortable qualifying for tournaments as it is.

At the post-match press conference after the Armenian game, Irish boss Stephen Kenny unsurprisingly was eager to talk about the positives and take a wide step over the steaming pile that was the four goals conceded from winning positions in the last two games.

Lessons

"It was a crazy game really," said Kenny."We created quite a lot of good chances out there, we [just] didn’t hit the target.

Asked if he was concerned that his side gave up a two-goal lead against the Armenians?

Kenny replied, "It doesn’t worry me at all. I think today, we were 2-0 up and went chasing the third goal when we didn’t need to.

"We went chasing a third goal and got punished, and we came back and got the winner, and overall it is a really good performance with a few minutes of madness, and is something we can learn from in terms of taking responsibility of not being exposed when you are winning like that."

But even as relaxed as Kenny seems to be about claiming seven points from a possible 18, he surely cannot expect the goodwill of pundits and fans alike to continue should these results continue into the more serious qualification process that is the European Championships.

Already, it seems, the patience of the pundits is starting to wear thin. Liam Brady and Damien Delaney have questioned Kenny's interpretation of the game, that, "the performance was exceptional at times."

"I don’t remember it being exceptional at times," said Brady. "Comfortable, in control, yes. Exceptional, no."

While former Crystal Palace defender, Corkman Delaney said, "How many lessons have we learned? Stephen said afterwards 'it's just one of those things'. It's not just one of those things.

"When you look at his track record for the last two years, there's been several of those things. You can say quite easily lessons learned but when are they going to start learning them? When are we going to start winning games that we should win? I know we won tonight but I'm talking about the Scotland game."

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny applauds the fans after the Armenia game. Picture:INPHO/Ben Brady
Ireland manager Stephen Kenny applauds the fans after the Armenia game. Picture:INPHO/Ben Brady

Soon, we as fans must decide whether we prefer seeing Ireland play attractive football over qualifying for international tournaments.

The Euro qualifiers are fast approaching. Kenny has only a few months to see if he can blend his ideology of ground football with the results we all desire and need from this Irish team.

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