Republic of Ireland beat Bulgaria in friendly
Two goals in the last seven minutes of the game enabled a weakened Republic of Ireland side to overcome Bulgaria 3-1 in Dublin in a Tuesday night friendly.
Mick McCarthy’s side were strong favourites with sports betting companies going into the game, but they had to wait until the second half to take the lead, when Alan Browne took advantage of an error by goalkeeper Hristo Ivanov after a shot by Ronan Curtis.
Ivelin Popov restored parity on 67 minutes, but a header by Kevin Long seven minutes from time restored the Republic’s lead, and good work by Enda Stevens and debutant Jack Byrne three minutes from time enabled James Collins, another debutant, to register a third.
McCarthy used the game to give opportunities to several players, including Byrne of Shamrock Rovers and Collins, who plays in the Championship with Luton.
He also handed international debuts to goalkeeper Mark Travers of Bournemouth and Charlton’s Josh Cullen, while Burton Albion’s Kieran O’Hara came on as a substitute.
However, while there were bright spots to the performance, including first international goals for Browne and Long, and the fact that the win extended his unbeaten run in his second spell as Ireland boss, it is likely that McCarthy will revert to his regular starters for October’s crucial Euro 2020 qualifiers against Georgia and Switzerland, both of them away from home.
In fact, Conor Hourihane of Aston Villa was the only player who retained his place in the team after the draw with Switzerland on Thursday, and Bulgaria also made several changes, including an international debut for Ivanov at the age of 37.
The changes to both sides made for a scrappy first half, though the visitors had the better of it, with good headed opportunities for Georgi Pashov and Kristian Dimitrov against a struggling home defence, and the Portuguese-based midfielder Bozhidar Kraev came up with a moment of true class to play in Daniel Mladenov, but Cullen was on hand to block his effort.
The game became more urgent after half-time, and Bulgaria had claims for a penalty turned down before the home side took the lead after a long-range effort from Ronan Curtis was fluffed by Ivanov, giving Browne the chance to score.
A defensive error from Cyrus Christie led to Bulgaria earning a penalty and levelling the game, but the late goals from Long and Collins sealed the win.
Words: Jonah Farrell