Republic of Ireland lose Nations League opener in Armenia

Ireland have now not won in 11 attempts since the competition was introduced
Republic of Ireland lose Nations League opener in Armenia

By Damian Spellman, PA, Yerevan

Republic of Ireland’s Nations League misery continued as Eduard Spertsyan blasted Armenia to victory in Yerevan.

The midfielder hammered a long-range 75th-minute effort past keeper Caoimhin Kelleher, making his competitive debut for Ireland, to hand the League B newcomers victory and revenge for their controversial Euro 2012 qualifier defeat in Dublin.

Stephen Kenny’s men, who have now not won in 11 attempts since the competition was introduced, could have few complaints on a night when their eight-game unbeaten run came to a disappointing end at a sweltering Republican Stadium.

Ireland enjoyed the upper hand for long periods, but failed to convert dominance into chances.

Callum Robinson had a mishit first-half shot cleared off the line and Chiedozie Ogbene headed over when he might have done better, but they wilted after the break and were caught by a sucker punch, albeit one delivered with aplomb.

With skipper Seamus Coleman and Enda Stevens operating as wing-backs, Ireland went straight on to the offensive in an effort to seize the initiative, but it was Kelleher, playing in place of the injured Gavin Bazunu, who was called upon to keep out Tigran Barseghyan’s skidding sixth-minute effort after Nathan Collins had surrendered the ball.

Shane Duffy had to block Spertsyan’s shot at full stretch seconds later and the defender picked up a ninth-minute booking for an untidy challenge on Barseghyan.

Ireland threatened for the first time when Josh Cullen fed Ogbene and he slid the ball into Callum Robinson’s path, but the striker could only ripple the side-netting with his attempt.

Neither side was able to exert any measure of control in an error-strewn passage of play and Robinson might have done better when he scuffed Ogbene’s 16th-minute cross towards goal, where Hovhannes Hambardzumyan cleared off the line.

Ireland were unable to break down Armenia
Ireland were unable to break down Armenia (AP Photo/Hakob Berberyan)

Duffy headed over from Cullen’s corner with the visitors having regained their composure, but clear-cut openings proved few and far between.

Armenia keeper David Yurchenko caused panic in his own penalty area with a less than effective punch as he attempted to deal with Troy Parrott’s driven cross and Spertsyan survived penalty appeals for handball as Coleman recycled.

Ogbene dragged a 38th-minute shot past the far post after Robinson had collected Hendrick’s fine pass and squared before Parrott curled wide from distance four minutes before the break with Ireland pressing.

However, Ogbene passed up perhaps the best chance of the half in stoppage time when he was left unmarked from Cullen’s free-kick, but powered his header inches over.

The home side served warning of the threat they posed on the break within five minutes of the restart when Barseghyan played Hambardzumyan into space down the right and then collected his return pass before stepping neatly inside Parrott to curl a superb shot into the top corner.

Ireland fans were left disappointed in the Nations League again
Ireland fans were left disappointed in the Nations League again (AP Photo/Hakob Berberyan)

However, the celebrations at the Republican Stadium died almost as soon as they had begun as an offside flag spared Kenny’s side and Barseghyan could not find the same accuracy with a similar effort from greater range six minutes later.

Duffy headed a 62nd-minute Cullen corner straight at Yurchenko and put another attempt wide from Stevens’ cross seconds later as the visitors responded.

Hendrick curled a 69th-minute shot into Yurchenko’s midriff, but it was Armenia who took the lead with 15 minutes left on the clock when Spertsyan was allowed to close in on goal before unleashing a 25-yard strike which beat Kelleher’s despairing dive and went in off the upright.

John Egan thumped a later header wide as the Republic sought salvation but Armenia, who lost 9-0 in Norway last time out, held firm to take the points.

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