Dreary draw against Denmark ends tough year for Republic of Ireland
Nations League Group B: Denmark 0 Republic of Ireland 0
AARHUS was hardly going to be memorable as the Republic of Ireland eked out another scoreless draw against Denmark last night that brings the curtain down on the Nations League group stages.
It was another thoroughly uninspiring performance from Martin O’Neill’s men as they have now gone four games without scoring a goal and recorded just one win – against USA – in 11 games.
As a spectacle last night’s tie was a non-event. The fact that the Danes were already promoted in the Nations League and the Irish relegated didn’t help the competitiveness of this contest.
And so the Republic – and O’Neill – limp on and await next month’s Euro 2020 qualification draw in Dublin.
The hosts, in truth, never got out of second gear. They didn’t create a lot of clear-cut chances but they still should have won the game.
Denmark’s most notable chance was self-inflicted from an Irish perspective.
In the 68th minute, Richard Keogh dithered on the ball and was robbed by Nicolai Jorgensen but the big striker hit the post when he had the goal at his mercy.
After that gift-wrapped chance, the Danes seemed to lose interest in actually pressing home their territorial advantage and appeared happy to settle for a goalless draw.
O’Neill made five changes to the side that drew a blank against Northern Ireland in Dublin last Thursday night.
Cyrus Christie was promoted to the starting line-up for last night’s final Nations League group game and was deployed again in a less familiar right-sided midfield role, with Glenn Whelan playing his final international game last Thursday evening.
Enda Stevens, another second-half substitute against the north, probably earned his chance to impress on the left side with James McClean ruled out through suspension.
Aiden O’Brien won his second start in attack, taking over from Preston’s Callum Robinson.
The Ireland manager appears intent on sticking with a 3-5-2 system that has enjoyed only moderate success to date, but made two changes to his central defensive three. Kevin Long and Richard Keogh were restored to the starting line-up with John Egan pulling out the squad with injury and Darragh Lenihan dropping to the bench.
It was a slight surprise Jeff Hendrick was retained after another introverted display against the north, with Harry Arter seemingly relegated to the backwaters of O’Neill’s squad.
Age Hareide also made five changes to the Denmark side that overcame Wales but, rather ominously, Christian Eriksen was retained despite there being nothing at stake for the home side, while dangerous winger Pione Sisto started on the bench.
But it was clear from the start that Danes weren’t that pushed about going for the jugular.
Eriksen dropped to the halfway line at times to assume possession of the ball, as there weren’t many holes to unpick in the visiting defence.
That was due to some ordered defending from the Republic but also the lack of tempo in the home side’s play.
It was no surprise Eriksen was removed at the break but he almost produced the best moment of a lethargic first half when his 30-yard free fizzed over Darren Randolph’s bar.
Apart from a couple of daring runs from Stevens, the Republic didn’t threaten the Danish goal in the opening 45 minutes.
The visitors’ defensive line dropped to their own 18-yard line, and deeper at times, that invited pressure. But the Danes couldn’t translate their possession into meaningful chances.
Yussuf Poulsen headed harmlessly into Randolph’s arms and fired over with another half-chance just on the half hour mark.
Arguably the best chance of a meandering first half was when the attack-minded Peter Ankersen over-loaded the right side and his low cross was almost turned into the Republic’s goal by Nicolai Jorgensen at the far post but Seamus Coleman cleared the ball off the line.
Poulsen squandered another good chance just after the restart, blazing over from close range.
At the other end the Danes didn’t experience one moment of stress throughout the tie.
It was like Groundhog Day watching the Irish in freezing city of Aarhus last night.
There was plenty of brave defending but absolutely nothing in the way of creativity.
Every time they had the ball the stress levels rose among the Irish players. As soon as they gained possession it was gone again. That’s the way of it these days.
Hendrick disappointed again in midfield. There was plenty of perspiration but little in the way of inspiration from Robbie Brady who, in fairness, is still shaking the ring rust off after a long lay-off.
The team is devoid of leadership and cohesion and they look utterly clueless when they try to advance with the ball.
Enda Stevens at wing-back was one shaft of light for O’Neill while young Michael Obafemi made his international debut – getting the last 10 minutes last night - after dominating a lot of the pre-match talk.
It’s hard to be optimistic about the Irish side as they bring the curtain down on a desperate 2018.
O’Neill, it appears, still has the backing of his bosses – but the optimism and enthusiasm is draining away with every passing game.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
Darren Randolph: He might have endured a poor Nations League but posted a better performance against Northern Ireland last Thursday. Apart from one save, he had a quiet first half. Watched a couple of other efforts breeze over his crossbar in the second half. 6
Seamus Coleman: The Ireland skipper was played in the wing-back role again. Cleared one off the line in the first half from Nicolai Jorgensen. Still doesn’t look comfortable in the role and might have done better the few times he was in the final third of the field. 5
Enda Stevens: The Sheffield United defender was winning his fifth cap last night after a couple of encouraging displays as a second half substitute. Made two excellent early runs and defended well. Stuck to his task in the second half even though he was outnumbered a couple of times. 6
Shane Duffy: Reached a quarter of a century of caps in Aarhus last night and was the only central defender to keep his place from last Thursday night. Defended stoutly, putting his body in the way of a series of Danish shots, but still not brave enough with some of his passes. 6
David Keogh: Only on 21 caps, the Derby County man was inclined to sit a little too deep at times and might have done better with his distribution. Very lucky he wasn’t punished by Nicolai Jorgensen after being caught in possession. 5
Kevin Long: Restored to the starting line-up for last night’s clash, the Burnley man was loose in some of his play but did get his head onto a few Danish crosses. 5
Jeff Hendrick: Fortunate to keep his place after a disappointing display against Northern Ireland, the Burnley man tried to be productive with his passes but the defence played too deep at times which limited his options. More aggressive in the tackle in the second half. 5
Cyrus Christie: Looked lost in his right-sided midfield role, particularly in the first half. Caught in possession and his end product was wayward. Never really made an impact in the second half either despite working hard. Like a fish out of water in midfield. 4
Robbie Brady: Looked lively in the first half and tried to make things happen. Maybe could have dropped deeper to help build attacks. Emptied the tank for over an hour as he continues to shake the ring rust off after an 11-month absence. 5
Callum O’Dowda: Just one notable run in the first half from the Bristol City winger. Had licence to roam but didn’t receive the ball in good enough positions to make an impact. Dropped into midfield in the second half as O’Neill played two out-and-out strikers for the last 25 minutes before making way for Obafemi. 4
Aiden O’Brien: Winning his fourth cap last night, the Millwall man chased shadows and never got a great deal of service. Could have done better with a few balls that came his way. Replaced by Ronan Curtis after 65 minutes. 4
Callum Robinson: Angered his manager for not being full-blooded in a 50-50. Rushed the Danish centre backs a little more. 4
Ronan Curtis: Given 25 minutes to impress in place of Aiden O’Brien, the Portsmouth striker still looks a little raw. 4
Michael Obafemi: The much talked about teenager made his first appearance for the Republic in the 80th minute. Caught in possession a couple of times. 4
Frederik Ronnow: With first-choice ‘keeper Kasper Schmiechel ruled out through suspension, the Eintracht Frankfurt got a rare start last night. A virtual spectator throughout to the point where he must have felt the cold. 5
Peter Ankersen: The FC Copenhagen defender was restored to the starting team and although he was part of a flat back four, he played most of the game right up against Enda Stevens. Put a great cross in that almost yielded a goal towards the end of the first half. Quality display. 7
Jonas Knudsen: Yet another change to the Danish defence that took to the field against Wales last Friday, the Ipswich Town defender made some decent attacking runs but the side were more dangerous down the opposite flank. 6
Andreas Bjelland: Didn’t feature against Wales but played memorable in last year’s two legs against the Republic, the classy central defender was never put under a lot of stress. Made one excellent tackle in the first half and breezed through the second half. 6
Matthias Jorgensen: One of six players that held onto their place from the Wales clash, the Huddersfield Town defender had an easy night beside Bjelland. He was up against sole attacker Aiden O’Brien and was untroubled and looked comfortable against two strikers late on. 6
STAR MAN: Lasse Schone: The Ajax midfielder was very comfortable on the ball and when Eriksen wasn’t probing in possession he was. Clever operator. Lorded midfield and was unlucky some of his shrewd passes didn't produce a goal. 7
Pierre Emile Hojberg: The Southampton man was another unused sub in Cardiff that was given the chance to impress last night. The more limited of the Danish midfield. Gave the ball to more talented team-mates. Good game. 6
Christian Eriksen: Ireland’s nemesis was retained for last night’s dead-rubber and played 45 minutes. Showed some lovely touches in the first half and was unlucky with a rasping free-kick before being replaced at the break. 6
Martin Braithwaite: Scored a brilliant goal against Wales three nights earlier, the Middlesbrough man didn’t get beyond Seamus Coleman and kept cutting in field. Lacked a cutting edge. 5
Nicolai Jorgensen: The central striker was always lively but he was heavily out-numbered at times but kept showing for the ball. Should have buried the best chance of the game but his effort came off the post. 6
Yussuff Poulsen: The towering RB Leipzig striker had two decent chances in the first half and was probably the most dangerous attacker in the first half. Replaced after 66 minutes. 6
Lukas Lerager: Tried to get ahead of the ball after Eriksen came off for him at the break. 5
Christian Gytkjaer: Came in for Poulsen and looked decent. 5
Andreas Cornelius: The big striker was given the last 12 minutes in place of Braithwaite. 5