Republic of Ireland lose to Finland in Nations League to complete week of woe
Jensen's winner makes if five games without a win for Irish manager Kenny
It is an understatement to say this week has not gone the way Stephen Kenny would have wanted.
The Republic of Ireland have seen their dreams of reaching Euro 2020 end and now risk relegation in the Nations League.
They are still waiting for their first win in the new competition or under their new manager. A second goal would help, too, but Shane Duffy’s last-minute equaliser against Bulgaria remains the lone strike of Kenny’s reign.
Some 390 minutes of football later and Ireland have conceded two winners to Finland and, in particular, to Fredrik Jensen.
It may have felt all the more damning as this was a goal that stemmed from Kenny’s passing philosophy.
He has promised a more progressive style of play to change a team long known for their direct tactics. But as goalkeeper Darren Randolph tried to pass the ball out, Teemu Pukki anticipated it and while his cross was intercepted by Dara O’Shea, the ball bounced off the defender for Jensen to poke in a shot. The match-winner in Dublin last month repeated the feat.
The margins are small and two minutes earlier Ireland had come agonisingly close when Enda Stevens’ lob hit the bar.
Yet chances were too few: Ireland can clock up passes, but turning possession into incision has been the challenge and if the build-up has been better, the end product has been lacking.
Kenny nevertheless merits sympathy in trying times. Only 11 of his original 25-man squad have been available for all three games and there has been a makeshift feel throughout.
His plans have had to be redrawn time and again and here he was without 11 players who were either suspended, injured or unavailable as a by-product of others’ coronavirus cases.
In a very modern problem, Adam Idah and Aaron Connolly had missed the previous two games for sitting slightly too near a staff member who had tested positive, only for it to be a false positive.
Connolly was Ireland’s brightest spark and suggested he might have made a difference against Slovakia or Wales.
He drew a couple of saves from goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky, found Sean Maguire in a promising position, only for the Preston forward’s poor touch to cost him a shot, and made a series of buccaneering runs.
Ireland improved after Kenny brought on Robbie Brady. His set-pieces gave Duffy and Matt Doherty chances to level and his crossing almost brought Ronan Curtis a maiden international goal, with Hradecky making a fine injury-time save, but Ireland had too little creativity before the winger came on.
And Finland could have seized the lead earlier. Pukki eventually prospered as the provider but had missed two inviting opportunities, dragging one shot across goal after Pyry Soiri provided a defence-splitting pass and then placing a second past the near post.
O’Shea made a fine block to deny Ilmari Niskanen as the West Bromwich Albion player acquitted himself well on his debut.
Yet if the new-look Ireland offer some signs they are going in the right direction, they are not yet apparent in the results.
Published: October 14, 2020 10:21 PM