Robbie Brady’s late penalty saves Ireland’s blushes against Armenia

Stephen Kenny’s men retain their status in the second tier of the Nations League despite losing two-goal lead

Nations League B, Group One:

Republic of Ireland 3 (Egan 18, Obafemi 52, Brady 90+1 pen) Armenia 2 (Dashyan 71, Spertsyan 73)

Chaos reigned at the finish as VAR and a Robbie Brady penalty kick intervened to save the Republic of Ireland from humiliation in the Nations League.

Slovenian referee Rade Obrenovic appeared to make a career-defining decision in Stephen Kenny’s favour, as technology conspired against Armenia after Dara O’Shea’s late shot hit Artak Dashyan’s arm. The Armenian substitute was dismissed for a second yellow card, following teammate Hovhannes Hambartsumyan who was sent off for verbally abusing the official.


Nine-man Armenia were understandably distraught at the final whistle.

This cannot go on. Ireland on Kenny’s watch were literally brought to their knees by the 92nd ranked side in the world, for the second time in three months.

A flat affair was bumbling along, with Ireland scraping together a 2-0 lead, before goals in rapid succession by Dashyan and Eduard Spertsyan brought the entire Kenny experiment into question. Yet again.

Awful results against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan in 2021 were forgiven by a new FAI board but this latest collapse almost signalled a new low. The Dashyan strike came after Gavin Bazunu pushed a stinging effort by Styopa Mkrtchyan onto the post. Spertsyan, who scored the winner in Yerevan last summer, profited from a Harry Maguire-level error by Kenny’s first replacement Conor Hourihane.

A seemingly slow march to victory, via John Egan’s traditional Irish goal and Michael Obafemi’s modern Irish strike, went haywire as the manager appeared frozen to the autumn grass.

It took 18 unfussy minutes before Brady found his range from a corner kick, following two years in the international wilderness. He curled an earlier one to the back post where Dara O’Shea rose and connected before Egan skimmed the ball wide. Earlier still, Jason Knight flashed across goal for Obafemi to head wide.

Come the 18th minute Brady’s delivery was as sure as the skipper’s downward header to catch David Yurchenko cold. Poor goalkeeping and terrible marking allowing the latest Egan special, his second goal in four days.

By 28 minutes the tempo had stalled. “What is tempo?” Kenny asked pre-match, “what does it mean?”

It has to mean more than this. Jayson Molumby sat in front of the back three, in the suspended Josh Cullen’s role, while Ireland’s most creative tools, Brady and Jeff Hendrick, both 30 now, went about chiselling the Armenians’ low block.

Sure, the Egan sledgehammer was to hand, but that’s not what this team is meant to be about. At least Matt Doherty, another 30-year-old, was on form; the Spurs wing-back almost conjuring a second goal before half-time.

By 38 minutes the 41,718 crowd were streaming out for pints and the toilet. No real atmosphere, just a Tuesday night of sparring between minnows and journeymen.

The most interesting sight since the goal was Hendrick and Doherty calmly discussing the mathematical theorem that was the opening 45 minutes as they strolled under the West stand for refreshments.

The rest of us tuned into the second half of extra-time in Tel Aviv and more misery for Irish football.

Anybody paying attention sees the lack of an obvious candidate to replace Kenny during this ambitious transformation of how the game is scouted, coached and played in this country.

What’s certain is the calibre of opposition third-seeded nations like Ireland must face in next year’s European Championships qualification. The first seed out of the hat in Frankfurt on October 9th could be Hungary, Poland or our old friends Denmark, but there is an equal chance of drawing Italy, Spain, Croatia, Portugal, Belgium or the Dutch. For second seeds, Irish fans would be forgiven for wanting a trip to Wembley or Stade de France but ideally Bosnia, Israel, Austria, Serbia, Scotland or Wales will appear.

Not that this team looks capable of handling any of those teams over two games. Not without an elite coach.

On 48 minutes Brady had a shot on target, forcing the first save of the night from Yurchenko. Since beating Ireland 1-0 in Yerevan, the goalie has conceded 14 goals in four games so Obafemi got the memo, spinning into space before driving a shot into the bottom right corner.

Daylight, 2-0. Maybe even enough to forget this game ever happened. No chance. As the hour mark ticked by, news came through of the penalty shoot-out in Israel as the Ireland under-21s lost the play-off to reach their first ever major tournament. You could hear the entire Aviva stadium watching the other game on their phones. You could hear the lull in proceedings until a single drumbeat followed by some cow-bell raised the tempo. Or tried to.

The contest was silently screaming out for Irish substitutions. Kenny reacted at a glacial pace, until it was almost too late.

The third act was excruciating to witness, as Dashyan and Spertsyan goals arrived with 17 minutes remaining. The panic was palpable and when Kenny’s face appeared on the big screen the boos endured.

Luck, desperate clinging luck, saved Ireland in the end as Brady slid home the winner.

Can this really go on?

Republic of Ireland: Bazunu (Southampton); Collins (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Egan (Sheffield United), O’Shea (West Bromwich Albion); Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Hendrick (Reading), Molumby (West Bromwich Albion), Knight (Derby County), Brady (Preston North End); Obafemi (Swansea City), Parrott (Preston North End). Subs: Hourihane (Derby County) for Molumby (51), Browne (Preston North End) for Knight, Robinson (Cardiff City) for Parrott (both 76 minutes), Hogan (Birmingham City) for Obafemi (86).

Armenia: Yurchenko (Pyunik); Hambardsumyan (Anorthosis), Haroyan (Anorthosis), Mkoyan (Ararat), Calisir (Silkeborg); Monroy (Deportivo Independiente Medellín), Spertsyan (Krasnodar), Grigoryan (Alashkert), Bayramyan (Rostov); Barseghyan (Slovan Bratislava), Zelarayán (Columbus Crew). Subs: Dashyan (Pyunik) for Monroy, Voskanyan (Alskhkert) for Mkoyan (both 60), Moradyan (Ararat) for Calisir, Shaghoyan (CSKA Sofia) for Barseghyan (both 82).

Referee: Rade Obrenovic (Slovenia).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent