Football/Soccer

Disappointing night in Nations League as Republic and Northern Ireland slip to away defeats

Republic of Ireland forward Aaron Connolly and Finland's Paulus Arajuuri battle for the ball during last night's National League clash in Helsinki. Picture by PA
Neil Loughran

Uefa Nations League B Group Four: Finland 1 Republic of Ireland 0

STEPHEN Kenny cited mitigating factors after his wait for a first win as Republic of Ireland manager was extended to five games in Finland.

Fredrik Jensen's 66th-minute strike secured a 1-0 win for the Finns in Helsinki as Ireland once again drew a blank at the end of a punishing three-match sequence over the last week.

The defeat in Finland followed last Thursday's Euro 2020 play-off exit on penalties in Slovakia and a 0-0 home draw with Wales at the weekend, but Kenny's task was made all the more difficult by the coronavirus protocols and injuries which decimated his squad.

"We've lost eight players through Covid-related issues and we have three players, including our captain Seamus Coleman and Harry Arter, who pulled out of the original squad, and then we lost David McGoldrick and James McCarthy, so there are mitigating factors,” said the former Dundalk boss.

"The fact that we could lose eight players the morning of the Welsh game and go and play reasonably well and hold our own against them speaks volumes for the players, really, because they didn't lose in Slovakia, where they were absolutely exceptional.

"Finland played well at times and so did we. It was a pretty even match. Again, we are in the dressing-room wondering did we deserve to lose that, and the answer is no, we probably didn't.

"The players have shown real character and the young players that have come in have shown a great mentality, and I am optimistic that they will go on to be important players for Ireland."

Ireland once again created chances - full-back Enda Stevens hit the crossbar three minutes before what proved to be the game's only goal and Finnish keeper Lukas Hradecky made fine late saves from Matt Doherty and substitute Ronan Curtis to extend their goalless run to six-and-a-half hours of football.

But Teemu Pukki made the most of a rare error by Darren Randolph, picking off the keeper's short goal-kick and crossing for Jensen - who scored the only goal in the meeting in Dublin last month - to again net the winner.

Kenny said: "You can't legislate for a mistake sometimes and Darren has been very consistent for us. That is his 47th international for us tonight and he has been consistent for a number of years now.

"It's one of those things you have to accept. It was a disappointing goal to concede, of course."

Ireland are due to conclude their campaign in Wales and at home to Bulgaria next month.

Norway's Fredrik Midtsjo battles for the ball with Northern Ireland's Corry Evans (right) and Gavin Whyte. Picture by PA

Uefa Nations League B Group One: Norway 1 Northern Ireland 0

NORTHERN Ireland's Nations League frustrations continued as a Stuart Dallas own goal condemned them to a 1-0 defeat to Norway in Oslo.

A Northern Ireland side featuring 10 changes from that beaten by Austria on Sunday battled hard and created several chances in the first half, but were undone in cruel fashion as Martin Odegaard's 67th minute corner span off the arm of substitute Dallas to find the corner of the net.

It was a seventh defeat in eight for Northern Ireland in this competition, keeping them bottom of League B1, though Ian Baraclough will take some encouragement from how some of his squad players stood up to a team that won 5-1 in Belfast last month.

With focus already firmly on next month's Euro 2020 qualifying play-off final against Slovakia, that was arguably more important than the result here and there were positive signs from the likes of Daniel Ballard, Tom Flanagan and Michael Smith.

While Northern Ireland were beating Bosnia and Herzegovina on penalties in their qualifying play-off semi-final last week, Norway saw their own hopes ended by a disappointing home defeat to Serbia.

But they got that out of their system as Erling Haaland scored a hat-trick in Sunday's 4-0 win over Romania and threatened to pick up where they left off here.

There were only 90 seconds on the clock when Haaland spun in the area and shot at goal.

Trevor Carson, who only came into the side when Bailey Peacock-Farrell was injured in the warm-up, got enough on it to slow the ball down before Flanagan hooked if off the line.

It might have been the start of a Norwegian onslaught similar to the one seen at Windsor Park last month but instead Northern Ireland, who had emphasised the importance of starting strongly, were soon on the front foot.

Conor Washington, impressive throughout the first half, broke through to force a save from Andre Hansen before Corry Evans fired over after a corner.

Josh Magennis cut in from the break to shoot straight at the goalkeeper after one counter-attack, then passed up the best opportunity of the entire half in the 19th minute.

Washington worked hard to dispossess Odegaard before slipping in his strike partner, who could not lift it over the goalkeeper.

The game settled down after the early flurry, but Norway threatened again on the stroke of half-time as Haaland got free of Ballard but could not direct his header past Carson.

Jonny Evans, the only player to have kept his place from both the Bosnia win and the Austria defeat, appeared to pull up late in the first half and handed the captain's armband to brother Corry as he was replaced by Conor McLaughlin at the break.

Carson was busy again six minutes in as Odegaard fed Josh King, whose low shot forced the Motherwell goalkeeper to quickly get down to his left.

Norway threatened once more just before the hour when a corner made it through to Stefan Strandberg at the far post but he could not keep his shot down.

Dallas was sent on alongside Paddy McNair on the hour, but the Leeds man was then unfortunate to be caught out for the goal as Odegaard's corner struck his arm and span beyond Carson into the far corner.

Northern Ireland struggled to muster a response, their best chance a Corry Evans shot from the edge of the area which went comfortably wide, but will look to pick out the positives before the showdown with Slovakia on November 12.

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Football/Soccer