Ireland edge out Gibraltar
The Republic of Ireland extended their lead at the top of their Euro 2020 qualifying group with a less than convincing 2-0 win over lowly Gibraltar.
Mick McCarthy’s side went into the game as big favourites against one of Europe’s weakest teams and ultimately were able to increase their Group D lead to five points, but they struggled to assert themselves in Monday night’s game, and only earned a two-goal cushion in injury time.
Joseph Chipolina’s own goal in the 29th minute gave the home side the lead, but it was over an hour before they found the net again with a powerful header from Robbie Brady. In between those goals, Ireland struggled to create many opportunities against a team that is ranked 195th in the world, and McCarthy’s team were frustrated in their ambition to play a more attacking style.
The Ireland manager, who is in his second spell with the national team, gave competitive international debuts to Scott Hogan and Callum Robinson and lined up with a 4-4-2 formation that showed more attacking intent than the 4-3-2 they employed for their 1-1 draw in Copenhagen in their last game.
Hogan, who is on the books of Aston Villa but spent the second half of the 2018-19 campaign on loan with Sheffield United, linked up well with Blades forward David McGoldrick early on, but was caught offside on three occasions by the well-organised Gibraltar defence.
The opening goal came just after a promising passage of play from the visitors. Jeff Hendrick had been alert to the danger and pulled off an important interception, before launching a counter-attack down the right. Robinson attempted a through ball, which deflected to Seamus Coleman, and his pull-back found McGoldrick, whose shot was heading wide until it took a deflection from Chipolina and ended up in the net, giving the hosts the lead.
That goal appeared to rouse the home team to greater efforts, and Robinson had three good opportunities to increase the lead before Brady’s late goal. However, the team’s inability to turn a possession stat of 70% into a more convincing score line will be a concern for McCarthy ahead of more difficult tasks.
Although a 5-1 defeat for Georgia against Denmark enabled Ireland to increase their lead at the top of the group, they now face a daunting run of fixtures, including home and away games against Switzerland and a home tie against Denmark.
Words: Man Ngo