Republic of Ireland continue upward momentum with second half treble against Bulgaria
International friendly: Republic of Ireland 3 Bulgaria 1
THREE second half goals continued the Republic of Ireland's new-found upward momentum and sent their fans home happy at the Aviva last night.
With only Conor Hourihane surviving from the side that had battled hard to take a point against Switzerland on Thursday night, manager Mick McCarthy gave Mark Travers and the impressive Josh Cullen full debuts while Kieran O'Hara, Jack Byrne and James Collins got their first tastes of senior action in the second half.
Collins bagged Ireland's third goal as the Boys in Green finished with encouraging energy. Kevin Long had scored the second after Alan Browne's opener had been cancelled out by Ivelin Popov's penalty in an all-action second half that was a contrast to the goalless first.
Ireland dominated possession with Cullen, Alan Judge and Browne impressive in a midfield trio while former Derry City player Ronan Curtis, on the left wing, and Callum O'Dowda, on the right, both had some good moments.
Curtis set the rules of engagement down early when he went crashing into Georgi Pashov and then almost got on the end of an O'Dowda cross before Malinov nipped in to nick ball away.
At the other end, Ivan Goranov broke forward but Browne hooked the ball over bar for a corner and Pashov could have done better when he rose unchallenged on the penalty spot but his header into the turf bounced up and into the arms of Travers.
Pashov ran back into defence admonishing himself but he was soon back on the attack. Ireland skipper John Egan got across and slid in to dispossess him concede another corner and this time Kristian Dimitrov headed over the bar.
Ireland countered and another O'Dowda cross, this time from the right, was headed over by Judge and the Ipswich Town midfielder had another go five minutes later when he tried his luck from outside the box after Cullen had made the best of Cyrus Christie's mis-hit cross.
The Republic moved the ball neatly and intelligently in midfield and then looked to release O'Dowda or Curtis on the wings and Judge and Conor Hourihane combined well down the left before Simon Slavchev, who kept Scott Hogan on a tight rein, intercepted.
When he did get the ball Curtis looked dangerous and he drifted in from the left wing and hammered a shot that whizzed past the post as half-time approached and then latched onto Hourihane's ball and sent in a teasing cross to the far post. Hogan just failed to get a toe on it as he slid in and Bulgaria 'keeper Ivanov went sprawling to his left to save.
The stadium announcer roared: AT HALF-TIME ITTTTT'S BULGARIA NIL, THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND NIL!!!! As if anybody didn't know.
The tempo remained the same in the early stages of the second half. Judge, again full of running and good intentions, over-hit a cross and then Christie had to be alert to clear a Pashov centre.
Egan threw himself in to block Mladenov's shot and when the, Strumska Slava forward had another go from the rebound he blocked it.
But it was the Republic who were looking the more likely and they finally made the breakthrough after 56 minutes.
Cullen, impressive on his debut, found the direct Curtis on the left. His shot was fumbled by Ivanov and Hogan was onto the rebound in a flash. He poked it across goal where Browne was waiting at the far post to tap the ball into an empty net.
Byrne had sent a shot zipping wide before the visitors equalised.
Christie's indecision under a hopeful routine high ball allowed Goranov to rob him and pass to Kraev who was taken down by Egan's clumsy tackle. Referee Tobias Welz pointed to the spot and Ivelin Popov smashed the penalty into the roof of Travers' net and it was 1-1- with 20 minutes left.
McCarthy through a shovel of coal into Ireland's engine for the closing stages by replacing Hourihane with James McClean and Byrne's cross just evaded Collins as the Boys in Green searched for a second goal.
It came with seven minutes left when Byrne's in-swinging corner was met by the towering Long at the far post and he sent a thumping header into the net.
And there was a third – the best of the lot. Collins held the ball up and Byrne flighted a delighted ball over the Bulgarian full-back for Enda Stevensm, just on the pitch, to volley across goal. Collins was in the box and he steered the cross home on the volley.
Egan came close to adding a fourth from another corner but three goals was enough to seal an encouraging performance from McCarthy's men who can look forward to Euro 2020 qualifiers in Georgia and Switzerland with optimism.
Republic of Ireland: M Travers; C Christie, J Egan, K Long, C Hourihane; A Browne, A Judge, J Cullen; C O'Dowda, R Curtis, S Hogan
Subs: J Byrne for Judge (50), J Collins for Hogan (59), McClean for Hourihane (68). K O'Hara for Travers (75), E Stevens for O'Dowda (76), J Hendrick for Curtis (83)
Bulgaria: H Ivanov; I Goranov, N Dimitrov, A Nedyakov, G Pashov; S Slavchev, K Dimitrov, G Milanov, K Malinov, D Mladenov; B Kraev
Subs: Popov for Milanov (HT), V Bozhikov for Nedyalkov (59), Wanderson for Dimitrov (59), K Despodov for Mladenov (68), V Panayotov for Dimitrov (80), G Terziev for K Malinov (80)
Referee: T Welz