Early Ireland promise fades as Qatar continue Stephen Kenny’s wait for a win
Josh Cullen misses chance late on in Hungary as friendly ends in a draw
Ireland’s James McClean celebrates scoring the opening goal with Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady during the friendly international against Qatar at the Nagyerdei Stadion in Debrecen, Hungary. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Qatar 1 Republic of Ireland 1
An early Irish goal, Luxembourg leading Portugal at the break and Azerbaijan getting an equaliser against Serbia in Baku . . . what’s that old one about it being the hope that kills you?
In the end, there were no favours from the weaker two sides in the night’s Group A games, just enough from the hosts in each instance to prompt a slight sense of foreboding about Ireland’s games in autumn.
In Debrecen, meanwhile, Ireland’s start brought back memories of the 2018 qualification campaign, those nights in Moldova and Georgia where an early goal briefly suggested that Martin O’Neill’s side might push on and secure that rarest of things, an entirely straightforward win. It ended up being more Tbilisi than Chisinau unfortunately and so Stephen Kenny’s long wait for a first win of his tenure goes on.
Those who don’t rate him won’t like this next bit but there were positives, like the corner routine just four minutes in that led to James McClean’s goal with the initial exchange between Daryl Horgan and Robbie Brady allowing for plenty of movement in the middle before the ball to the Derryman, whose low shot was turned past his own goalkeeper by Pedro Miguel.
By the end, though, Qatar would have felt at least a little aggrieved had Josh Cullen got the headed goal he should have after substitute Jason Knight had done well to play himself out of a tight corner and Cyrus Christie floated a cross into space eight yards out from the far post. The Anderlecht midfielder had just to pick his spot and Kenny would finally have been off the mark, or at least he had to pick one beyond the reach of goalkeeper Saad Al-Sheeb and that turned out to be too much of an ask.
Long before that, just after the break in fact, Qatar had drawn level with a goal that had a hint of Saturday’s about it, Mohammed Muntari’s finish at least was something of a ringer for Gerson Rodrigues’s. Kenny will inevitably feel that his side should have won the game and you can certainly make a case for it but the fact that they keep failing to deliver does tell a tale.
Early on, there was a fair bit to be upbeat about from Ireland, although having made eight changes it might have been slightly bittersweet for the manager to think that maybe he had just been selecting entirely the wrong team up until now.
Kenny largely stuck with the system employed in the last two games, just tweaking it so as to have players either side of Shane Long, who did more than enough to remind the manager of what he used to more regularly bring to teams.
The 34-year-old ran as energetically as ever and still had the pace to leave the Qatari defenders trailing after him at times. As too often seems to be the case, though, his finishing let him down when his big chance came and Al-Sheeb got a hand to his shot after Christie had forced a rash back pass from Abdulkarim Hassan.
The veteran striker’s presence still seemed to help the team mix things up a little more, however, with Ireland happy for the Qataris to edge forward in numbers while leaving space towards their rear. It is not clear that Luxembourg would have been lured out in the same way but Qatar’s game is generally based around hitting opponents on the break and that side of things was rarely an issue for Kenny’s side here.
Christie was another returning member of the team to make a decent impact and Dara O’Shea did well having retained his starting spot.
With a few others of the old guard, though, it was a fairly familiar story. McClean, who will inevitably reflect fondly on a night in which he scored, and a window in which he earned three caps despite having been less than fully fit, was energetic but erratic in the left wing back role. Shane Duffy made a couple of terrific blocks and challenges around his own area but then also tended to give the ball away when showing anything more than minimal levels of ambition when seeking to play it out from the back.
Still, their experience seemed to count for something during the early phase of the game when they were all out there, a spell that didn’t last long as Robbie Brady was forced off just short of the midway point in the opening half. That allowed Troy Parrott an extended run during which he brought plenty of enterprise but struggled to pose too much a threat around the area, even after Long’s departure when he was handed more responsibility for that end of things.
As the changes kept coming the flow of the game was disrupted and the early impetus evident in Ireland’s play was lost in a game that drifted for spells through the second half and towards the end the way these occasions tend to. Still, Ireland had chances to nick it with Callum Robinson first missing the target when trying to find a route through a sea of bodies with a shot from close range and Cullen then not doing quite well enough with that free header late on.
Whether Kenny reads too much into the earlier portion of the display remains to be seen but it is hard to imagine him changing horses in the way that some of the old boys clearly believe that he should. Still, this may just have proven a little more useful than your average friendly for a manager who clearly cannot claim to have gotten everything right in his previous 10 games.
With luck, and he is due some, Kenny will have the full range of options in the autumn having got to do a lot more work on the training ground during the summer camp. For now, though, the frustration, his and everyone else’s, goes on.
QATAR: Al Sheeb (Al-Sadd); Al Rawi (Al-Duhail), Khoukhi (Al-Sadd), Salman (Al-Sadd); Pedro Miguel (Al-Sadd), Al-Haydos (Al-Sadd), Boudiaf (Al-Duhail), Hatim (Al-Rayyan), A Hassan (Al-Sadd); Muntari (Al-Duhail),Ali (Al-Duhail).
Subs: Alahrak (Al-Duhail) for Hatim 81 mins), Abdurisas for Muntari (90+1) Al-Hajri (A-Sadd) for Al-Haydos (90+4).
IRELAND: Bazunu (Rochdale); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), O’Shea (West Brom); Christie (Nottingham Forest), Molumby (Preston), Hendrick (Newcastle United), McClean (Stoke City); Brady (Burnley), Long (Bournemouth), Horgan (Wycombe).
Subs: Parrott (Ipswich) for Brady (22 mins), Knight (Derby) for Horgan and Robinson (West Brom) for Long (57 mins), Browne (Preston) for Hendrick, Manning (Swansea) for McClean and Cullen (Anderlecht) for Molumby (all 84 mins).
Referee: Balázs Berke (Hungary).