| 16.1°C Dublin

baku in business It was great to see Ireland finally play with a little bit of anger, with a little bit of fire in their bellies

This was a huge win for Stephen Kenny, he badly needed it

Close

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with defender John Egan after their victory over Azerbaijan

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with defender John Egan after their victory over Azerbaijan

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with defender John Egan after their victory over Azerbaijan

Well, that was more like it. Yes, Azerbaijan are ranked 117th in the world, but last night in Baku, Ireland played with a little bit of anger, with a little bit of fire in their bellies.

Maybe it goes back to the Callum Robinson stuff during the week, maybe it goes back to all the criticism that has come the squad’s way, yes, from me and others.

But there was a passion and determination about Ireland last night that I liked.

We could and should have won this match by more than three goals.

Robinson had a number of chances to get his hat-trick and Shane Duffy’s forehead, normally so reliable in the other team’s penalty area, for once let him down with a sitter of a chance.

Do you know, that if it wasn’t for that magic man, Cristiano Ronaldo in the 95th minute in Faro last month, Ireland would now be on a seven-match unbeaten run.

Close

James McClean is restrained by team-mate Shane Duffy

James McClean is restrained by team-mate Shane Duffy

James McClean is restrained by team-mate Shane Duffy

Yes, Portugal excepted, we haven’t played any really top teams in that run, but once a team gets used to not losing, well they go out confident that they won’t.

But this was a vital win that will serve Ireland well in the future.

It was much better from Ireland, with our attackers at last looking like they were full of confidence and happy to trust their own abilities.

Looking backwards can sometimes only hurt a team, but you have to ask the question of how Ireland got themselves into a situation last month where we needed a late leveller for a point against Azerbaijan at home.

I don't know what happened that night, but certainly something went badly wrong.

Looking at the Azeris last night, they were a poor enough side and Stephen will be wondering what went wrong that night, it was a match we should have won that would have taken the pressure off the boss.

We were much the better team than them last night and I suppose you can only put that poor home effort down to Ireland’s well-known inability to break teams down at the Aviva Stadium.

That problem long predates Stephen Kenny’s arrival as Irish manager.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

We are short a ‘10’, a creator, someone who has the touch of class that can open international defences and of course, inspite of Robinson’s heroics in Baku, we are lacking a proven international goalscorer.

Maybe we didn’t really appreciate Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Keane when we had them.

Yet until those two players emerge from somewhere, and one of our underage teams is the most likely source now that ‘Granny’ players as adults just don't seem to surface anymore, I just can’t see things improving for Ireland in terms of qualifying for tournaments.

Without those two key men to deliver the goods, international football is a hard station.

And nights like a home loss to Luxembourg and a home draw with Azerbaijan are going to happen while you bed in new talent.

To compensate, we’ve got to be well organised and cut out on giving away the ball.

We did that too often last night, it was the one negative of the night, we gave away the ball too easily at times.

On other occasions we got the ball back to front very quickly and it was good to see Chiedozie Ogbene make his competitive debut - and get a goal too.

Close

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu

Ireland manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu

He’s definitely one player I’d like to see start on Tuesday. He did enough to earn that in his second half appearance.

At times, though we had players trying the difficult thing instead of keeping it simple and making sure the ball went from one white shirt to another.

Maybe that’s all part of the learning process for a young team - or at least a team missing that crucial leavening of players in their mid 20’s.

We’ve a band of players in their 30’s and after that is is about youth, so mistakes will be made.

This was a huge win for Stephen Kenny, he badly needed it, I truly wonder if he could have survived as Irish manager after losing this match.

But now he can kick on, Stephen can give lads who didn’t start last night a game against Qatar on Tuesday.

There are lads who have been turning up faithfully for matches and not getting a game and they will be champing at the bit to play against the World Cup hosts and show what they can do.

Then the manager can prepare for another joust with the Portuguese next month.

He will surely hope that this match also marks the end of the many withdrawals and upheavals the squad has ensured over the last 18 months.

Seamus Coleman was the only real option missing last night.

Kenny will want to have everyone on board for the match against Portugal and be able to make whatever selection choices and tactical choices he wants.

It is vital that we kick on from here with good performances.

Certainly, I want Ireland to go out and beat Qatar and Luxembourg next month.

Portugal are different of course - with their many world class players and their one genius.

They can beat any team in world football and you will not condemn this Ireland squad for anything that happens in that game.

But if you are going to qualify for things, and Stephen clearly has Euro 2024 in Germany in his sights, with 24 teams in the competition, you have got to take on the top nations.

There are always going to be a Portugal, France, a Germany in our group and you’ve got to have a go at those big powers - as we did to Germany in 2015 and Italy in 2016.

So Stephen will be hoping that he can get every player into his camp for that match and put on the sort of show that he did in Faro where we played well.

Interestingly last night, Ireland never offered any vision off a set-piece.

We didn’t need them, we got two goals from open play and a third from a corner when Ogbene was just plainly able to out jump his marker.

I suspect the team had something in the locker for a free-kick or a corner-kick that they did not need to produce.

All the corners came Azerbaijan’s way as they put us under the cosh at times.

Gavin Bazunu made some good stops and the lad really is a cracking goalkeeping talent for a 19-year-old.

No wonder Manchester City have refused any offer that has come in for him.

They don’t need Gavin right now, so they are happy to loan him out. But when Gavin is 24 and Ederson has moved on from the Etihad who knows what might happen.

This was a good night all around for Irish football.We supporters needed it, Stephen needed it and the players needed it.

The FAI needed it too. They could do without need the managerial upheaval that would have gone with a disaster last night.

Maybe, just maybe, we will look at this win in Baku as a turning point in the fortunes of Irish football that have been on a downward trend.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Privacy