Robinson silences his critics and eases the pressure on Kenny

West Brom striker strikes twice in Baku to help seal a long-awaited first competitive win for Ireland’s manager

Azerbaijan 0 Republic of Ireland 3

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

The 26-year-old's brace means Robinson has scored more times for Ireland than he has contracted Covid. Fingers plugged both ears as he ran towards 300 delirious fans, singing Here's to you Callum Robinson, a take on Simon and Garfunkel's famous song, with six minutes clocked.

“Ireland loves you more than you could know” became the final version they sang.


A high Irish press, while brave to a fault, had holding midfielder Josh Cullen under all sorts of pressure whenever the final ball missed its intended target. Twice the hosts came storming over halfway with Andrew Omobamidele and Shane Duffy scrambling to deny what seemed certain early goals for Azerbaijan.

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 pass and after one rolling touch Robinson let fly a sweet left-foot strike.

This was familiar yet worrying territory as Stephen Kenny's team took 1-0 leads in Belgrade against Serbia and Faro against Portugal. Robinson eased all fears with his second before the break.

Ireland continued to be caught high up the bumpy pitch with John Egan breaking up yet another counter-attack to find Daryl Horgan before Robinson evaded Azeri captain Maksim Medvedev to unleash a low, right foot shot that took a slight deflection off Hojjat Haghverdi and skimmed past goalkeeper Shakhrudin Magomedaiyev.

Cue the avalanche of ‘double dose’ puns.

It would have been 3-0 before the second half settled but for Haghverdi's heroic block after McClean profited from a delicious Robinson back-heel to charge 40 metres downfield and shoot. He failed to notice Adam Idah was completely unmarked to his right.

A rout seemed inevitable when another Robinson effort flew wide. Jamie McGrath had replaced Horgan at half-time, as Kenny needed 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’s downward header 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 throughout.

Acrobatic saves

Chiedozie Ogbene replaced Idah, who put in a solid shift considering a fever had him bed-ridden up until Friday morning, and the Rotherham winger instantly gifted Robinson his umpteenth sight of goal.

What seemed an inevitable hat-trick ran out of time as, down the other end, Ireland's teenage sensation Bazunu made a couple of acrobatic stops to deny 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 manager – was topped off by Ogbene heading his first international goal from a late Cullen corner.

“It’s not often that Ireland come away from home in a qualifier and win 3-0, so it was brilliant to do that,” said Kenny. “That’s the only defeat in the last seven games, bar the 97th minute defeat in Portugal.”

Didi Hamann did not like that in the RTÉ studio but the German sounded like a caricature from a bygone era, unable to comprehend what is happening in Irish football.

“I didn’t like what the manager said. The manager just won his first game out of 13 competitive games and out of 13 games I’d say there is at least six, seven, eight opponents where I don’t expect Ireland to beat but we should be able to beat them, yeah?

“To turn around now and say ‘well we only lost one in the last seven’ I think is wrong. Look at the table!”

Hamann completely misjudged the mood of a nation when adding: “Keep your feet on the ground. Have a positive performance on Tuesday and things might look different”.

Plenty of criticism has been levelled at Kenny over the past 20 years on the sideline but big-headedness is a preposterous accusation.

The last time Ireland won by three or more goals away from home in a competitive game – not involving Gibraltar or the Faroe Islands – was against Estonia in 2011. Hop back another decade for the 4-0 scalp in Cyprus and both times one Keane or the other were in their pomp.

Landmark result

This was a landmark result. The first victory of substance since James McClean's winner sunk Wales in Cardiff four years ago.

Spouting nonsense about the importance of tomorrow’s friendly against a football nation that is only relevant because they inexplicably landed the World Cup, and constructed gargantuan stadiums in the most disgusting manner sport or society has known since the Egyptian pyramids, is the very definition of tone deafness.

“I think he is wrong,” Hamann repeated. “I think you got to put things into perspective. I don’t think things were as bad as people made out but they certainly are not as good as he sees it.”

When asked if the noise around his future had been silenced, Kenny snapped: “I don’t care about that. I know we are creating a team here, a very exciting team, we have blooded so many players and it was not all going to work straight away but you can see the potential. I definitely feel we will get better so we have to continue with our work.”

There’s a discernible rhythm to that work now.

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

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

Referee: Espen Eskås (Norway).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent