By Damian Spellman, PA
Alan Browne has insisted the Republic of Ireland have never doubted their ability to score goals and win games.
Stephen Kenny’s side launched their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-2 defeat in Serbia on Wednesday evening, a reverse which left the new manager still awaiting a first victory after nine games at the helm.
They did, however, end a goal drought which had stretched to more than 11 hours of football as they took a first-half lead at the Rajko Mitic Stadium in Belgrade, in the process answering a question which had dogged the early months of Kenny’s coronavirus- and injury-hit reign to date.
Preston midfielder Browne, who scored the opener, said: “It might have been questioned outside of our dressing room, but we never questioned ourselves, we believe in ourselves and believe in our team-mates.
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“We’ll fight every minute of this campaign – that’s what we did last night, we fought until the end. It wasn’t to be, but there are some positives to take from it.
“We’ve got to look at the goals we conceded as well and try to rectify that going forward, but for the most part, I thought we played really well. To a man, the boys worked their socks off and that’s all you can ever ask of them.
“You’ve just got to hope that our quality prevails at the other end.”
Ireland will indeed take positives into Saturday’s home clash with Luxembourg as they look for a first competitive victory since they beat minnows Gibraltar 2-0 in a Euro 2020 qualifier in June 2019.
However, they will do so wondering what might have been after Browne had headed them into an 18th-minute lead in Serbia, their first goal in 678 minutes on the pitch.
Had they made it to half-time with their lead intact, or had they been awarded the second-half penalty they believed they should have been, things might have been different.
In the event, Dusan Vlahovic levelled five minutes before the break and after Italian referee Davide Massa had waved away Aaron Connolly’s appeals, Aleksandar Mitrovic struck with an audacious chipped effort and then headed home a second before fellow substitute James Collins pulled one back late on.
Browne said: “We are obviously massively disappointed. The bottom line is we need results. I think the performance was all right. A bit of naivety probably cost us on the night. You need to hold out until half-time at 1-0 and it’s a different game.
“There was a stonewall penalty that I can’t believe wasn’t given. I’m not one to look for excuses or anything, but that does change the outcome of the game no matter what way you cut it. We feel hard done by, but we won’t dwell on it.
“It’s a disappointed mood at the moment, but we need to get over it quickly because we’ve another really important game coming and it’s one that we need to win.”
Browne’s goal was his first for Ireland in a competitive game, but he admitted he could take little pleasure from it.
He said: “I’d rather not score and get a result.”