Republic stumble over Gibraltar to maintain grip on Euro 2020 top spot
Euro 2020 Qualifying Group D: Republic of Ireland 2 Gibraltar 0
AFTER two dreadful encounters it was good to see the back of Gibraltar. The Republic of Ireland struggled on ‘the Rock’ back in March and they did so again in Dublin last night – but they banked six points out of six from the Group D minnows and hold onto top spot heading into the summer break.
The second half of their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign next season will be much tougher than the first with a pair of games against Switzerland, a trip to Georgia and a return match with Denmark. But, so far so good for Mick McCarthy’s men – even if last night’s affair made for painful viewing.
A goal in each half from David McGoldrick and substitute Robbie Brady wrapped up the points in the Irish capital last night.
But it was a terrible spectacle and had the feel of an end-of-season affair with both sides running on empty.
Gibraltar were like an annoying blue bottle in a room. It buzzed around but was ultimately harmless. They defended stoutly but never mounted a serious attack in the entire game.
McCarthy made two changes to the side that grabbed a late draw in Denmark last Friday night. With the manager insisting there was no need for a deep-lying midfielder to protect the back four, out went Glenn Whelan and in came Aston Villa striker Scott Hogan who was winning his fourth international cap.
Robbie Brady also dropped out of the starting line-up with Callum Robinson earning a recall after impressing off the bench in Copenhagen.
Still licking their wounds from their 3-0 defeat to Georgia last Friday, colourful Gibraltar coach Julio Ribas made just two changes to his starting line-up with Alain Pons and Andrew Hernandez gaining favour.
Whether it was anything to do with the team bus breaking down on the way to Lansdowne Road last night, the Republic were desperately sluggish in the opening half hour.
Apart from Shane Duffy’s early header sailing over Gibraltar’s crossbar in the opening minute, the visitors were quite comfortable and didn’t really get pulled out of position.
Desperately keen to impress, Hogan led the front line and was busy but was caught offside too often in the opening half and it didn’t improve for him in the second half either before he was replaced by Sean Maguire.
James McClean huffed and puffed for most of the night, while another international game passed Jeff Hendrick by.
Seamus Coleman tried to get things going down his flank and he did link up well with Robinson at times.
But, apart from Conor Hourihane, whose repertoire of passing was one glowing feature of a bleak evening and some decent stuff from McGoldrick, there was very little to shout about from an Irish perspective.
Gibraltar defended in numbers and were well structured - but their attack was powder puff, with Tjay De Barr chasing between Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh for scraps.
Ireland’s opening goal arrived after 29 minutes and was completely consistent with the game's ragged nature.
The ball deflected into Coleman’s path and his low cross from the right flank found McGoldrick unmarked in the penalty area.
The Sheffield United striker’s right-footed shot was breezing harmlessly wide when it took a horrible deflection off Joseph Chipolina’s midriff and the ball spun into the net giving ‘keeper Kyle Goldwin no chance.
But the goal didn’t inspire the home side to greater heights.
Robinson had a couple of decent efforts in the first half while Gibraltar managed their one and only shot on target after 56 minutes – a comfortable collect for Darren Randolph – after the Irish were caught short at the back.
Hourihane kept moving the ball swiftly and incisively to both flanks, Coleman kept offering himself as an outlet but the home side never stretched Gibraltar ‘keeper Kyle Goldwin who entertained the crowd by kicking roughly a half dozen balls straight out of play.
McGoldrick raised the pulse with a clever run and curling effort that came back off the upright in the 71st minute and just when this Qualifier was trundling along to a predictable conclusion second-half substitute Robbie Brady raced to the back post to head home McClean’s deep centre to at least put a bit of polish on the scoreboard.
It was an instantly forgettable night in Dublin - but McCarthy has banked 10 points from four games and he'll be already plotting the downfall of the Swiss when they visit the Aviva in September.
That's when Group D gets down to business.
Republic of Ireland ratings
Darren Randolph: The Middlesbrough ‘keeper was a spectator for virtually the entire game and was only occasionally involved to handle a couple of back passes. Gets a five for turning up. 5
Seamus Coleman: Just as in Copenhagen, the Ireland captain stationed himself high up the pitch and offered the attack plenty of width. Put some nice balls into the danger area and raised a gallop when others around him couldn’t. 6
Enda Stevens: The Sheffield United man may only have a handful of caps to his name but he has made the left back berth his own. Very comfortable in possession and dealt with any danger Gibraltar caused down his flank with relative ease. 6
Shane Duffy: Had an early header that drifted over the bar. Tjay De Barr buzzed around him like a nuisance and got no change out of the big Derry man. 6
Richard Keogh: Vigilant throughout and defended well when Gibraltar managed to get that far up the field. Didn’t need to break sweat. 6
STAR MAN: Conor Hourihane: The best passer Ireland have and has overtaken Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady in terms of importance to the team. Pinged some excellent balls left and right and his set pieces were decent. 7
Jeff Hendrick: Plenty of endeavour in Copenhagen and the same again last night, but he still hasn’t got close to that Euro 2016 form. Flatters to deceive too often. 5
Scott Hogan: Winning only his fourth international cap, the Aston Villa striker was over-anxious to impress. Caught off-side a few times and had one decent effort on goal before being replaced. 4
Callum Robinson: Earned a recall to the starting line-up, the Preston NE striker had a decent game. Playing on the right wing, he was unlucky with two fine efforts on goal in the first half and was one of the few who looked at least lively. 6
David McGoldrick: Played in a deeper role than against Denmark and showed some classy glimpses, especially his curling effort that came off the post in the second half. Some clever short passes too. 7
James McClean: Honest as the day is long. Never shirked his defensive responsibilities but was under-par although he did claim an assist for Brady’s late header. 5
Sean Maguire: Busy in the last 25 minutes without getting a sight of goal. 5
Robbie Brady: Injury-ravaged season but still in danger of slipping down the pecking order in midfield despite his late goal. 5