Northern Ireland’s finishing costs derby win in dull Dublin friendly



The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland played out an uninspiring goalless draw in Dublin on Thursday night, with Northern Ireland getting the better of a contest that never really sparked to life.

Both teams were in poor form going into the contest at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. The Republic’s sole win in the previous nine games came against the USA, in a fairly meaningless friendly back June which the Republic took 2-1, thanks to a last minute winner from Alan Judge.

The Republic’s recent problems have been exacerbated by a lack of creativity, as well as a series of players rejecting Ireland call ups – Jack Grealish and Declan Rice, who would both be likely to start for the Republic, have turned down Martin O’Neill’s call ups in favour of keeping England options open.

O’Neill may have averted a full-blown PR crisis when Southampton youngster Michael Obafemi finally declared his commitment to the home side a few hours before kick off.

Northern Ireland have fared little better, grabbing two wins in ten, with friendly victories coming against South Korea and Israel since they were highly unfortunate to be dumped out at last chance saloon by Switzerland ahead of last summer’s World Cup.

Despite their poor run, though, the consensus is Michael O’Neill’s efficient underdogs, one of the least star-studded sides to make an international tournament in recent years, when they overperformed at the 2016 European Championships, are still playing reasonably well, all things considered.

Northern Ireland fans support their side in Dublin

The early stages in Dublin, predictably, were as much about political theatre as football.

James McClean, whose long-standing stance on not wearing a commemorative World War I poppy causes an annual furore in this part of the world, was cheered vocally by the home fans and booed by the visitors whenever he’s near the ball.

‘God Save The Queen’ was drowned out in jeers even by the sparse home crowd, and the Ulstermen in the away end did their best to return the favour, before breaking into a leaping pogo dance in the away end with then minutes on the clock.

The first solid chance of the match falls to Gavin Whyte, who was played through one-on-one with Randolph in the Republic’s goal. His chance, created by Stuart Dallas and Liam Boyce combining wide on the left, was well stopped at an angle 12 minutes in.

Both sides did win a couple of corners, and the lively McClean fired over for the Republic, then repeated the trick ten minutes later from almost the same position while Northern Ireland, looked good on the break. Stuart Dallas was next to benefit, getting free on half way, and testing Randolph after a surging run to the edge of the penalty area.

There was little flow to the game, though, with both defences getting the better of their counterparts in the early stages, as tackles slid in, and attacking players struggled to hold the ball. Come half time, both sides had proven what most here already knew: they’re capable of being extremely stubborn, but don’t offer a whole lot of flair.

Michael Smith fired just over with an ambitious strike from distance right on half time, but by the break, the contest was yet to come to life.

The second half started in a similar vein: both sides comfortable knocking the ball around in their own half, but offering little more. A Callum Robinson through ball to half time substitute Ronan Curtis was symptomatic of the Republic’s attacking woes: he failed to collect the ball, but had he done so, he’d have been pushing forward on his own.

It took until the 59th minute for a little life to come into the second half, when McClean played in Robinson at pace, a decent sight on goal fired high over the top by the Preston man for the Republic. The home side were growing into the game, though, with Seamus Coleman showing his class on the ball at left back, and McClean increasingly finding space.

Photo: Stephen Gormley (Red Eye)

Coleman wanted a penalty a minute later, as he outruns Jamal Lewis on the right, but was adjudged to have thrown himself down on the corner of the box.

Most of the North’s chances came in the air, with Davis the key man in pinging the ball goalwards. One of Davis’ efforts resulted in a brief scramble for in the Republic’s box, hacked clear via Randolph and Darragh Lenihan, but most offered little threat.

After Rangers man Kyle Lafferty arrived on the pitch for the Northerners to vocal boos, Jordan Jones had the first really decent chance of the second half, breaking in to masses of space behind the Republic’s defence, after robbing Lenihan of the ball. Randolph saved well, but Jones should have scored.

From then on, Jones looked a lively threat, but the game petered out in a flurry of substitutions, and Hourihane’s looped volley over the top was the last real threat in a low-key contest.

Northern Ireland were the better side on the day, a fact highlighted by the Republic’s goalkeeper Randolph being awarded man of the match, but both teams lacked ambition, and fell extremely flat on cutting edge.

Right now, the pair’s 2016 assault on the European Championships feels a long, long time ago.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph (Middlesbrough, gk), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Shane Duffy (Brighton), John Egan (Sheffield United), Glenn Whelan (Aston Villa, captain), Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City), Robbie Brady (Burnley), James McClean (Sunderland), Jeff Hendrick (Burnley), Callum Robinson (Preston North End), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers)

SUBS: Conor Hourihane (Aston Villa, for Whelan, 35’), Ronan Curtis (Portsmouth, for O’Dowda, HT), Enda Stevens (Sheffield United, for McClean, ‘66), Sean Maguire (Preston North End, for Robinson, ‘66), Scott Hogan (Aston Villa, for Sean Maguire, ‘80), Cyrus Christie (Fulham, for Lenihan, ‘84)

NORTHERN IRELAND: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (Leeds United, gk), Jamal Lewis (Norwich City), Jonny Evans (Leicester City), George Saville (Middlesbrough), Steven Davis (Southampton), Liam Boyce (Burton Albion), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Gavin Whyte (Oxford United), Craig Cathcart (Watford), Michael Smith (Hearts)

SUBS: Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock, for Whyte, 61’), Paddy McNair (Middlesbrough, for Evans, ‘63), Kyle Rafferty (Rangers, for Boyce, ‘71)


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