woeful form continues Ireland in need of patience as Kenny’s creative team are once again shown up by more clinical opponents
Passion has always been a given from the Republic of Ireland’s senior team.
Patience is going to be a lot more important, however, and a virtue that will be tested in the weeks ahead, as the path to the revolution promised by Stephen Kenny displayed another bump with this defeat to Finland.
It was a repeat of the game played between the sides in Dublin last month – a game of between poor and average quality settled by one goal from an obscure Finn from an obscure German club, Fredrik Jensen.
It was also a night of two separate frustrations for Ireland and for Stephen Kenny.
This was another 90 minutes of international football with a lot of impressive build-up play, some chances created but no end product, a mixture of slack finishing
and poor decision-making: Aaron
Connolly admitted after the game that he needed to be less selfish when in possession.
Lessons like that will be invaluable but the 20-year-old is learning on the job, under the glare of a nation which can be unforgiving.
The greater frustration will be the manner in which the Finns scored their goal. A side already bound for Euro 2020 without the need for a play-off were gifted that score, when Darren Randolph made the surprising decision to play the ball out to Matt Doherty.
A dangerous thing to do at the best of times but when there is a deadly international goal poacher like Teemu Pukki lurking, it’s asking for trouble.
Pukki showed the calmness absent from the Irish front line, played the ball into the box and sub Ilmari Niskanen teed up Jensen who, despite the best efforts of debutant Dara O’Shea, scored past Randolph.
Jensen has now scored seven goals in just 16 games for his national team, the sort of return that could make Kenny weep with envy.
One goal in five games under Kenny makes for painful reading: Martin O’Neill’s supporters (and there are a lot of them still around) will point out that, even in the dismal, thrill-free year of 2018, his side scored four times in nine games.
Mick McCarthy is, bafflingly, carrying on his habit of commentating for TV on the matches played by his immediate predecessor even though he has previously said he welcomed Jack Charlton’s promise to him, on their handover of power in 1996, that Jack would never publicly judge McCarthy’s team.
McCarthy’s claim last night that “you just have to win games” rings hollow when his team won just one of their competitive games against an opponent not called Gibraltar but McCarthy’s point gives support to those who doubt the Kenny appointment.
McCarthy was given time by the FAI after a poor start to his first spell as manager and Kenny now needs the same patience and time. But he also needs to find a scoring touch, somewhere – it’s a worry that of the team’s best efforts the majority came either from a full-back (Doherty and Enda Stevens) or else were missed by a forward (Connolly).
Kenny’s starting XI was a mixture of the old and new, with rare competitive starts for Daryl Horgan and Seáni Maguire while O’Shea became the latest debutant of the Kenny era.
Horgan was one of the more effective Irish players, the Wycombe Wanderers man getting some joy out wide, and getting the freedom denied to Aaron Connolly, who was being very tightly marked.
Horgan played a part in a good chance for Ireland on 13 minutes. Some quick thinking from a dead ball sent Maguire down the left wing and Horgan laid the ball off for Jeff Hendrick, whose effort was blocked.
Connolly was doing his best to get away from his markers, with Tim Sparv lucky to escape without a booking for a challenge on the Brighton player on 25 minutes, Connolly then close with a curling effort just wide on 29 minutes.
Pukki was quiet in the early stages but became more of a threat as the game went on, coming close to scoring a minute before the break.
Stevens has contributed to goal chances for Ireland with his passes and the full-back came close to scoring the opening goal of the night on 64 minutes, his flick hitting the crossbar after a good pass from Jeff Hendrick.
Kenny’s first change saw Maguire replaced by Robbie Brady, and it was harsh on the Preston forward to be called ashore.
But while Ireland lack scorers, Finland have an elite-level one in Pukki and he had a hand in Finland’s goal as the Norwich man was alert to Randolph’s slack pass and set up Jensen to score.
After that, Connolly tested Hradecky with a shot, Doherty was close with a header three minutes from time while sub Ronan Curtis came closest of all in injury-time, his header from a Robbie Brady cross saved by Hradecky.
The passing game played by Kenny’s side in the last five games has been a vast improvement on the entertainment value served up previously, and this side’s failures in the Nations League are worrying but is also a continuation of the travails endured by Martin O’Neill’s side in the same tournament, two goals scored in eight Nations League matches overall.
Patience is now a key virtue for Irish football.
IRELAND – Randolph; Doherty, Duffy (capt), O’Shea, Stevens; Hendrick (Idah 75), Hourihane, Molumby (Knight 84); Horgan (Curtis 75), Maguire (Brady 53), Connolly.
FINLAND – Hradecky; Granlund, Toivio, Arajuuri, Uronen; Soiri (Niskanen 46), Kamara (Schuller 75), Sparv (capt), Taylor; Pukki (Pohjanpalo 80), Jensen (Kauko 85).
REF – L Tschudi (Switzerland)