Football/Soccer

Plenty of "growth" in Republic of Ireland: Matt Doherty

Matt Doherty had one of this best games in an Ireland jersey against Portugal

2022 World Cup Qualifying Group A: Republic of Ireland v Azerbaijan (today, Aviva Stadium, 5pm)

MATT Doherty may have shredded the Republic of Ireland’s performance in last season's one-sided friendly loss to England – but the Spurs defender believes the team is growing under boss Stephen Kenny.

The Dubliner also posted one of his best displays in an Irish shirt in Wednesday night’s gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to Portugal in Faro – and nailed the suggestion that Seamus Coleman and him can’t play in the same starting line-up.

Even though it was Ireland’s third straight defeat in World Cup qualification, Doherty is still upbeat.

“To be honest, there has been quite a bit of growth,” he said.

“The way we have been trying to play came to the fore on Wednesday night. Our confidence with the ball, our confidence in our own ability, our confidence in our shape, everything looked solid.

“We looked like a dangerous team, we looked like we could cause problems every time we broke forward. We were calm on the ball, we were calm out of possession, we didn't lose control, we didn’t lose our heads or lose our shape.

“That is progression over the games, we seem to be looking better, looking more of a threat going forward every time we play.

“Even though we lost the game, a lot of confidence is taken from that performance.”

The Irish led 1-0 until international goal-scoring record-breaker Cristiano Ronaldo headed two stoppage-time headers to cancel out John Egan’s first-half strike for the visitors.

"We understand that we are playing for points at the end of the day,” said Doherty, who played at left wing-back in Faro.

“But we also have to understand that we played a really good game and Ronaldo scored two really good headers.

“At the time I thought they were easy headers, but when I watched it back, especially the second goal, that’s a great header.

“So I don’t know if there was much that any of us could have done, it landed on his head and he put it in twice, so he was clinical. It’s obviously tough to take, but we’ve just got to move on now.”

Like Ireland, tonight’s visitors to the capital Azerbaijan have lost their opening three games – but they will present plenty of problems for Stephen Kenny’s men, and the hosts will need to keep a tight rein on Legia Warsaw striker Mahir Emreli.

Playing out from the back was also a feature of Ireland’s display against Portugal on Wednesday night – although a bad pass from Gavin Bazunu saw them concede a first-half penalty that was expertly saved by Ireland's goalkeeper.

“You want to play out from the back,” said the 29-year-old defender.

“I think there is a definite advantage if you are comfortable enough on the ball, which we are.

“Once you beat the initial press the game really opens up and you have a lot of space and a lot of grass to run into, with not many of their players, if you can beat the press well.

“I know obviously we made a mistake from it the other day, but when I watch highlights of games around the world I don’t see that many goals or mistakes coming from short goal-kicks.

“We don’t really have a problem doing it. I guess there are times when we would just not do it - when it’s coming up to half-time or they are really on top of us, or near the end of the game, when it just wouldn't happen.

“You pick and choose your moments, but we are quite fortunate that we have very good goalkeepers in the squad who are really comfortable with the ball at their feet.

“It’s almost like playing it back to another player, they are that good with their feet. I guess we’ve just got full confidence and belief in what our goalkeepers are capable of.”

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Football/Soccer