Callum Robinson makes the Liveline brigade eat their words in Baku

West Brom striker scores twice to give Stephen Kenny his first competitive victory

Ireland’s Callum Robinson celebrates scoring his first goal. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Ireland’s Callum Robinson celebrates scoring his first goal. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

Azerbaijan 0 Ireland 3

Some scripts scribble themselves. After Tuesday’s notorious press conference ended Callum Robinson’s cordial relations with the Irish media, the West Brom striker made the Liveline brigade eat their words.

The 26 year-old’s brace means he has now scored more times for Ireland than he has contracted Covid. Fingers were plugged in both ears as he ran towards 300 delirious fans, all roaring “Here’s to you Callum Robinson, ” an edit of Simon and Garfunkel’s theme tune to The Graduate, with six minutes clocked. “Ireland loves you more than you could know” became the final version that they sang. It’s a keeper.

The Irish high press, while enormously brave on the road, put holding midfielder Josh Cullen under all sorts of hassle whenever the final pass missed its target. Twice the hosts came storming over halfway with Andrew Omobamidele and Shane Duffy scrambling to deny what seemed certain early goals.

In between these fretful moments Robinson speared his first into the top corner. Of course he did. Cullen picked out James McClean who slipped a ball to the attacker and after one rolling touch Robinson caught a sweet left footer.

This was familiar and worrying territory. Stephen Kenny’s charges took 1-0 leads in Belgrade and Faro. Robinson removed the fear of 84 long minutes to mess it all up with his second before the break.

Azerbaijan did sense the hesitancy, pouring forward at every opportunity, wildly encouraged by their 6,000 fans in the cavernous 67,200 capacity Olympic Stadium - a monstrosity guarded by a kilometre perimeter of armed soldiers, truncheon wielding police and a third ring of volunteer stewards that reminded the visitors that this country was recently at war with their neighbours.

Or maybe they were expecting a Wembley-type invasion. The colourfully draped Irish weren’t long putting them at ease.

The security were as unhelpful as they were menacing, blocking taxis not marked “VIP” about 200 metres from the ground, forcing unhealthy journalists on an arcing walk to gain entry.

It was a ridiculous backdrop to a game that fizzled with relevance as both sides were desperate not to be propping up Group A by night’s end.

Ireland kept getting caught high up the bumpy pitch with John Egan the latest to quell the threat of Namik Alaskarov. Seconds later, Robinson almost nailed a right foot volley into the other top corner.

Egan and Robinson were not done, with the Sheffield United centre half again breaking up the play, finding Horgan, before Robinson eased inside Azerbaijan captain Maksim Medvedev and unleashed a low, right footer that took a slight deflection off Hojjat Haghverdi and skimmed past Shakhrudin Magomedaiyev.

Cue an avalanche of ‘double dose’ puns.

It really should have been 3-0 early in the second half but for Haghverdi’s heroic block after McClean profited from a delicious Robinson back-heel to charge 40 metres and shoot. Adam Idah was completely unmarked to his right.

The rout seemed on when another Robinson effort flew wide.

Jamie McGrath had replaced Horgan at half-time, perhaps with Kenny needing a better player in possession, and like everything on this Baku night it worked a treat.

Ireland were so comfortable at this point that Shane Duffy could afford to miss the target, from a perfect Robinson cross. It was a sitter but Ireland were rampant and Duffy was a defensive colossus for 95 minutes.

Robinson, again, had a sight of goal but Magomedaiyev saved well.

Chiedozie Ogebene replaced Idah, who put in a solid shift considering his illness this week, and the Rotherham winger instantly gifted Robinson a half chance.

What seemed an inevitable hat-trick ran out of road as, down the other end, Ireland’s teenage goalkeeper made his usual sensational stops from raspers by Abbas Huseynov and Gara Garayev.

“Ohhh Gavin Bazunu” went the Irish fans. All Kenny’s kids will have a song at this rate.

Ireland’s first competitive win since Gibraltar in June 2019 - and Kenny’s first as the gaffer - was topped off by Ogbene heading his first international goal from a late Cullen corner.

At the full time whistle, Kenny, who had to sprint to join his staff for Amhrán na bhFiann, could take a moment to hug each and every one of them.

Ireland: Bazunu; Omobamidele, Duffy, Egan; Doherty, Cullen (Hourihane 91), Hendrick, McClean; Robinson (Parrott 93), Horgan (McGrath h-t); Idah (Ogbene 58).

Azerbaijan: Magomedaiyev; Huseynov, Medvedev, Haghverdi, Krivotsyuk (Dadasov 79); Makhmudov (Sadikhov 86), Garayev, Bayramov (Abdullayev 63); Alaskarov (Sheydaev 63), Emerili, Ozobic.

Referee: Espen Eskås (Norway).

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