Not much to clap about as Iceland end Ireland’s unbeaten Aviva run
Martin O’Neill bloods four new internationals in friendly defeat at the Aviva
Iceland’s Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson scores their first goal from a free kick during the friendly against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Republic of Ireland 0 Iceland 1
Chris Coleman, you sensed, knew what he was at when he repeatedly referred to last Friday night’s game as “a very British derby” in a press conference where the locals were giving him a hard time about the behaviour of his players. As an assessment of styles, though, he clearly wasn’t too far off the mark and Iceland’s visit brought us more of the same without a genuinely British side in sight.
When they last came to Dublin, Iceland’s players dominated on the pitch and their press reacted with derision off it as stand in centre half Roy Keane got the man of the match award. That wasn’t much of a game either but the Corkman’s fierce display of determination to keep the opposition at bay was probably worth the price of admission.
Here, as usual after a friendly, you were left wondering whether anything justified the money or trouble from a paying spectator’s point of view. Like the visitors’ trademark “ThunderClap” you hoped that after a slow start it would gain a bit of momentum but, in truth, it rarely came to life really.
From Martin O’Neill’s point of view it will all have made a bit more sense, although clearly he could have done without a result that put an end to an almost three-year long undefeated streak at the Aviva and brought Iceland their first ever win against Ireland.
O’Neill had suggested beforehand there would be widespread changes and a couple of debuts and he delivered on both counts with Jeff Hendrick and James McClean the only surviving starters in a side in which John Egan and Conor Hourihane both appeared for the first time. Later, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle both saw a bit of action too as the manager seemed to threaten, at one stage, to empty the bench.
Both of the Cork men had their moments with the Aston Villa midfielder looking especially tidy when on the ball, but Egan probably learned an early lesson about the perils of conceding frees around the area at this level.
Actually, the level might not have come into it much with the Brentford defender’s foul on Augsburg’s Alfred Finnbogason punished by Bristol City’s Hordur Magnusson. His curling free didn’t look that special but still proved good enough to clear the Irish wall and leave Keiren Westwood somewhat stranded as it went in low, just inside the right-hand post.
Ireland initially struggled to produce a reaction to the setback with McClean, it seemed, one of the few players in a green shirt to show any great sense of urgency early on. They grew into things, though, and looked much better after the break.
McClean continued to put himself about, both in attack and defence, and Jonny Hayes caused the visitors some early discomfort with a cross that the goal-scorer, Magnusson, did well to get away to safety. The pressure grew somewhat as the Irish livened up and Callum O’Dowda hit the ground running after arriving on and was unlucky to see his shot blocked after stepping rather impressively past Holmar Eyjolfsson.
Ireland poked and prodded at the Icelandic defence without ever really threatening to rip it open and though the corner count started to mount Heimir Hallgrimsson’s side looked comfortable enough when defending a set piece.
O’Neill shook things up on the personnel front but persisted with the two strikers, Shane Long replacing McClean alongside Kevin Doyle up front, but neither managed to carve out much by way of a clearcut chance. Despite the crowd finally coming to life a little towards the end as the hosts stepped up their pursuit of an equaliser, it was hard to think of an occasion on which Iceland goalkeeper Ogmudur Kristinsson had to do much more than simply keep his head.
The team’s inability to create a little more was clearly a disappointment and for all the delight that greeted his arrival onto the pitch for Hayes 63 minutes in, Horgan did not provide any great new impetus to the attacking effort. O’Neill had some cause for satisfaction on other fronts with the team passing and keeping the ball a little more effectively as the night wore on, albeit against a side that increasingly seemed to see the game as an exercise in defending a slender lead.
They did that rather effectively but as they sat back they allowed the Irish full backs to get forward, something that allowed Cyrus Christie to show a bit more of the attacking side of his game. Early on, he had almost been caught off guard as the Icelanders showed a knack for getting quickly onto the front foot but the Derby County defender did well enough to justify O’Neill’s suggestion that he will be alright when called up in more testing circumstances.
The visit of Austria certainly seems likely to require a bit more from the manager and players than this, although while this game was going on, Ireland’s group rivals were drawing at home to Finland, a result that suggests they were not quite firing on all cylinders themselves.
Ireland should have most, though not all, of the regulars back by then and this international break will not be best remembered for this defeat.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday); Christie (Derby County), Egan (Brentford), Pearce (Derby County), Brady (Burnley); McGeady (Preston North End), Hourihane (Aston Villa), Hendrick (Burnley), Hayes (Aberdeen); McClean (West Brom), Doyle (Colorado Rapids).
Subs: Gleeson (Birmingham City) for Hendrick, Boyle (Preston North End) for Egan, O’Kane (Leeds) for Hourihane (all 63 mins); Long (Southampton) for McClean, O’Dowda (Bristol City ) for McGeady (all 72 mins). Not used: Doyle, Randolph, Keogh,Ward, Meyler. Booked: Egan.
ICELAND: Kristinsson, Saevarsson (Vidar Jonsson, 85 mins), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Smarason, 79 mins), Ingason, Ragnar Sigurdsson (Eyjolfsson, 52 mins), Magnusson, Gislason (Ari Freyr Skulason, 88 mins), Gunnarsson, Aron Sigurdarson (Omarsson, 65 mins), Finnbogason (Karlsson, 71 mins), Bodvarsson. Subs not used: Halldorsson, Kjartansson, Ingvar Jonsson, Arnason, Bjorn Sigurdarson. Booked: Ingason.
Referee: J Kehlet (Denmark).