Jeff Hendrick’s goal saves Ireland’s blushes against Gibraltar
Second-half goal secures win for Mick McCarthy’s side in opening Euro 2020 qualifier
Jeff Hendrick celebrates scoring Ireland’s goal in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Gibraltar at Victoria Stadium. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Gibraltar 0 Republic of Ireland 1
Ireland secured the win they required at the Victoria stadium but will be under no illusions as they travel home that rather more will be required of them against the better sides in this qualification group, starting on Tuesday when Georgia visit Dublin.
Gibraltar can be proud of their performance here and though they were certainly second best, there were times when it seemed as though they might somehow see the game out to secure a point.
Ultimately, though, Jeff Hendrick made the breakthrough that the Irish had been trying to engineer from the outset 49 minutes in and though Mick McCarthy’s side never looked entirely comfortable, they rarely looked like conceding themselves through the second half of what was a decidedly poor game.
Ireland slogged their way through a windswept first half, looking precisely like a side that was sapped of confidence after scoring just four goals last year.
The visitors, as would be expected, dominated in terms of possession and created a handful of chances, but turning one of them in proved beyond them against opponents who were organised and generally composed under pressure.
Neither the wind nor the playing surface did much to help Ireland’s cause but even at that, McCarthy’s men struggled to take anything like the sort of control of the proceedings that they would have hoped for.
Most of their better moves early on came down the right where Matt Doherty and Séamus Coleman linked up fairly well when pushing forward, but the final ball was rarely what was required to seriously test the local defenders.
When one was, after a mix-up between Joseph Chipolina and Anthony Hernandez, Coleman’s driven cross put Roy Chipolina under pressure and his downward header looked to be heading in until goalkeeper Kyle Goldwin got a hand to it to turn the ball over. It was the only save of real note that the goalkeeper had to make before the break.
From the other flank, Conor Hourihane’s set pieces proved to be the primary threat. Twice, the Corkman whipped in frees that Goldwin failed to cut out but on both occasions the ball skipped past David McGoldrick and out of play beyond the far post.
Gibraltar threatened to steal the lead themselves in the opening couple of minutes of the second period. They had looked capable of posing a threat from the couple of set pieces they had previously had and from a corner Roy Chipolina forced Randolph into a terrific stop with a close-range header.
Moments after Gibraltar took their follow-up corner, though, Ireland caught them on the break and after McGoldrick turned the ball inside from the left for Hendrick whose low left foot first-time strike lacked power but had just about pace on it as it rolled towards the bottom right corner to evade Goldwin’s outstretched hand.
The two sides shared the game’s few chances fairly evenly after that but the locals probably had the better of them until Shane Duffy headed a Hourihane free well wide two minutes from time when he might well have done better.
It made no material difference to the outcome in the end but doubling the margin at that stage would certainly have taken a little of the edge off the three minutes of added time that the Greek match official allowed. As it was, Ireland didn’t have to hang on for their win but the hosts still got to leave the pitch with their heads held higher.
McCarthy will, of course, be glad of the three points but he will want to move on quickly from this.
GIBRALTAR: Goldwin (Gibraltar Utd); Sergeant (West Didbury and Chorlton), R Chipolina (Lincoln Red Imps), J Chipolina (Lincoln Red Imps), Olivero (Abingdon Utd); Casciaro (Lincoln Red Imps), Walker (Europa), Annesley (Blackburn Rovers), Bardon (North Texas), Hernandez (Lincoln Red Imps); De Barr (Europa).
Subs: Priestley (Ossett United) for Annesley (64 mins), Pons (Lincoln Red Imps) for Hernandez (76 mins).
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Coleman (Everton), Duffy (Brighton), Keogh (Derby County), Stevens (Sheffield United); Doherty (Wolves), Hendrick (Burnley), Hourihane (Aston Villa), McClean (Stoke City); McGoldrick (Sheffield United); Maguire (Preston North End).
Subs: Brady (Burnley) for Doherty (56 mins), Arter (Cardiff City) for Maguire (72 mins).
Referee: Anastasios Papapetrou (Greece)