Ukraine seal famous win in Dublin as Ireland’s false start continues

Viktor Tsygankov goal gives refugee crowd a night to celebrate at the Aviva

Republic of Ireland 0 Ukraine 1

Ireland play second fiddle, and poorly so, on their own patch. Viktor Tsygankov was the hero but every Ukrainian player was caped in their country’s flag as they entered the Aviva pitch to the sight and sound of their fellow country men, women and children speckled all over the horseshoe.

The return leg in Lodz, Poland on June 14th, only 400 kilometres from Lviv in eastern Ukraine, where the game was supposed to happen, will feel like a home fixture. Both supporters and players need that reunion more than anyone living comfortably in Europe can possibly imagine.

How Ireland cope with them a second time, as they openly play for their families and soldiers in the trenches, is hard to fathom.


The problem with settling upon a distinct style, and gathering some half-decent results in the process, is the opposition employs an analyst to dissect your progress, and negate it. Armenia suffocated the Irish wing backs in Yerevan − for a loss Ireland manager Stephen Kenny has repeatedly stated they did not deserve – and this time Ukraine went one further by putting men on top of his three centre halves.

This asked Shane Duffy to produce a range of passing the big Derry man simply does not possess. It also revealed the lopsided nature of the Irish attack. When Chiedozie Ogbene and Callum Robinson were unable to win direct balls in aerial duels against sturdy Ukrainians, the match quickly descended into a battle for the second ball.

At least man-of-the-match Jason Knight proved, once and for all, that holding him in reserve is poor management. Knight was electric from the off on the left of three attackers, heaping pressure on Ukraine’s attempt to build from deep while constantly running at them.

If only his shooting existed on the similar plain to his desire, as two tame attempts on target were saved by Andriy Lunin.

Ogbene and Robinson had chances in the first half but both were shown up for what they are – English Championship-standard forwards who lack an instinctive eye for scoring. Ogbene showed real strength on 21 minutes but really should have popped a cross to his partner while Robinson’s tumble in the box on 32 minutes was judged by referee Filip Glova to be a superb tackle by Valeriy Bondar.

Glova appeared to award Taras Kacharaba’s looping finish from the edge of box to give Ukraine the lead, but by the time everyone made it back to halfway, VAR noticed that Artem Dovbyk was offside in the build up. Ireland were blessed as the Slovakian official saw nothing wrong with Dovbyk nudging through the back of Knight before letting fly.

Jeff Hendrick being caught too high up the pitch was another repetitive issue revealed by the disallowed goal.

Scoreless at half-time, Mykhailo Mudryk’s pace and positioning seemed the likeliest route to an opening goal. Oleksandr Zubkov also forced a save out of Caoimhín Kelleher.

With Enda Stevens wasteful at left wing back and the defence creaking, despite Nathan Collins’s growing authority, the emphasis switched to what Kenny would do to break the deadlock.

The answer was nothing. Not that anyone could have predicted Viktor Tsygankov’s arrival from the bench to in-swing a free-kick from the sideline that caught Kelleher on the hop. The Liverpool reserve was partially blocked by Duffy’s massive frame but the wonder was how Southampton-bound Gavin Bazunu would have handled a bouncing ball in the six-yard box.

Kenny remained rooted to the spot. No changes, total faith in the side that flopped in Armenia, with Cyrus Christie and Knight the only changes, as he challenged them to atone for one of the worst results in Irish football history.

A major issue is the lack of quality in the final third. Ogbene is primarily picked for pace and power, so his 50/50 final ball is forgivable, but Hendrick needlessly curling a pass out of play tested Kenny’s faith in Ireland’s most creative player.

Essentially, in this system, Hendrick is a holding midfielder but Josh Cullen was seen sprinting past him on numerous occasions as Ukraine glided up field.

Ireland barely had the ball in the 20 minutes after Tsygankov’s goal.

Eventually Kenny rolled the dice with triple substitutions as Michael Obafemi arrived alongside James McClean and Alan Browne. Oddly, Kenny kept Troy Parrott on ice, instead giving CJ Hamilton his debut late on.

Duffy summed up the jaded state of the group, after a long hard season the Ukrainians wish they had experienced rather than an invasion of their cities, by scuffing a late shot backwards.

Duffy came again and almost produced his party trick but a power header was finger-tipped on to the crossbar by Lunin. Obafemi headed the resulting corner wide.

No great escape as Knight blasted over in injury-time.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Kelleher (Liverpool); Collins (Burnley), Duffy (Brighton and Hove Albion, capt), Egan (Sheffield United); Christie (Fulham), Hendrick (Newcastle United), Cullen (Anderlecht), Stevens (Sheffield United); Ogbene (Rotherham United), Robinson (West Bromwich Albion), Knight (Derby County).

Subs: O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion) for Egan (62 mins), McClean (Wigan Athletic) for Stevens, Obafemi (Swansea City) for Robinson, Browne (Preston North End) for Christie (all 69), CJ Hamilton for Ogbene (72).

UKRAINE: Lunin (Real Madrid); Popov (Dynamo Kyiv), Bondar (Shakhtar Donetsk), Syrota (Dynamo Kyiv); Kacharaba (Slavia Prague), Shaparenko (Dynamo Kyiv), Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kyiv, c), Mykolenko (Everton); Zubkov (Ferencvaros), Dovbyk (SC Dnipro-1), Mudryk (Shakhtar Donetsk).

Subs: Tsygankov (Dynamo Kyiv) for Zubkov (h-t), Pikhalonok (SC Dnipro-1) for Mudryk, Karavaev (Dynamo Kyiv) for Kacharaba (both 71 mins), Sikan (Hansa Rostock) for Dovbyk (80), Ignatenko (Bordeaux) for Sydorchuk (88)

Referee: Filip Glova (Slovakia).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent