Disappointment for Ireland in Glasgow but optimism remains


Photo: Stephen Gormley (Red Eye Photo Agency)

Ireland suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Scotland in Glasgow on Saturday in a feisty Nations League game but hope remains around a youthful Irish squad.

There was a feeling among supporters that Stephen Kenny’s side left the points on the pitch at Hampden Park after taking the game to the hosts and going in at half-time deservedly in front.

Sheffield United’s John Egan swivelled and produced a brilliant finish past Craig Gordon after a dangerous James McClean set-piece to send the 3,000 strong travelling support wild.

Scotland responded well but Ireland held out and went in at the break in front whilst in a confident mood.

However, the lead was soon cancelled out when Jack Hendry pounced on some poor marking and Matt Doherty failing to prevent a cross from the left to glance a header in off the far post.

This may have sent other Irish sides into their shells in previous years but Kenny’s men responded again and spurned a glorious chance to re-take the lead.

With Scotland being pushed forward by their own supporters, an attacking set-play broke down and Michael Obafemi picked up the ball in his own half. The Swansea striker showed electric pace to ride the challenge of Ryan Christie before composing himself to pick out Troy Parrott.

Photo: Stephen Gormley (Red Eye Photo Agency)

The on-loan Preston man has struggled for goals this season and you could see why as the striker scuffed his attempt at giving Gordon the eyes, with the 39-year-old saving with his legs.

This miss would prove extremely costly when Alan Browne was penalised for handball in the Irish area. The referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot with Christie calmly rolling the ball home to allow the Scots to claim the victory and move within a point of promotion to League A.

It was a defeat that was very hard to take for Irish supporters but sight must not be lost of what was another encouraging display. The points tally does not show it, but Ireland have improved as this group has gone on after a dreadful opening defeat in Armenia.

Priority now of course is survival in League B with a place in pot three of the Euro 2024 qualifiers already confirmed. A point at home to Armenia will stave off relegation but a win should be the aim to give the side some much needed confidence.

It is a results business at the end of the day but in the grand scheme of things, only a handful of nations can truly hang their hat on winning the majority of their games and regularly qualifying for the big tournaments.

For smaller nations, a positive style of play will go a long way to appeasing supporters who spend hard-earned money to support the team. There are plenty of nay-sayers at the minute who only look at results but the majority of the match going fans are firmly behind Kenny and what he is trying to achieve.

The age of the squad has dropped dramatically and while there are not enough players playing at the highest level, Kenny has definitely got a tune out of what many would describe as a weak squad.

The spine of the team will only become more experienced as they play together. Gavin Bazunu is a real highlight in goal while Nathan Collins has emerged in the last year and brings a real touch of class to the defence. The return from injury of Andrew Omobamidele will only improve things at the back.

Further up the field there are issues but in Obafemi and Chiedozie Ogbenie, Ireland have something that they have not possessed for a while. Pace.

Ogbene has added more goals this Championship while Obafemi has done well since joining Swansea, attracting interest in the summer from Burnley.

More goals in the team is a must but with the under 21 side going well in Euro qualification, hopes are high for the likes of Evan Ferguson to make the step up to senior level.

Kenny has signed on for at least the next qualification cycle and that will probably decide his tenure.

For some, failure to qualify would mean the end of his spell in charge and it would be hard to argue against it. But Ireland could potentially find themselves in a group with Spain, England and Turkey. Nobody would have them qualifying from a group like that so expectations should be weighed up after the draw.

More positive displays like Saturday should yield more wins than defeats. A victory against Armenia in front of the home supporters would finish the year off well before sights can be set on Germany in 2024.

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