After the free-flowing match that Republic of Ireland supporters witnessed at the AVIVA Stadium against Belgium on Saturday, Tuesday night’s slender victory over Lithuania was a duller affair but it was another positive for Stephen Kenny to take moving forward.
Ireland had substitute Troy Parrott to thank to spark the Dublin crowd into life right at the death with his sublime stoppage-time winner. In the grand scheme of things it was what Ireland deserved for their possession but at times it was a snooze-fest as the Boys in Green struggled to break down their defensive opponents. It is of course a culture shock to see Ireland being on the other end of such a performance but it is a testament to what Kenny is trying to achieve with his team but he will have seen much to work on over the coming months after the flat performance against Lithuania.
He wants to build a team that can reach Euro 2024, and that was why he was given a contract that runs until 2024 but while there has been signs of progress in recent months, there is still a long way to go for them to achieve their goal. With the greatest respect to Lithuania, Tuesday night’s match was played out exactly how it was supposed to and Kenny said before the game that they need to start beating the teams they are expected to beat.
The 50-year-old will be pleased that his side were able to come away with the victory in the end, knowing how much of a positive impact it will have in the dressing room, but with the sheer lateness of the goal, he’ll want to have his side better-equipped for these types of tests in competitive fixtures in future.
The Irish players did well to keep pushing for a goal after they had four correctly ruled out for offside, but it got to a point where it wasn’t going to be their day but then Parrott delivered a thunderous strike out of nothing. After the late drama and ecstasy Kenny was delighted that his players were able to find a way through and he shared his joy after the game. He said: “To be fair to the players the ability to get late goals is a very important quality in a team.
“We scored late goals against Azerbaijan, Serbia, three against Luxembourg, against Belgium and again today. That characteristic is important, and you can’t underestimate persistence, it’s a very important quality. It speaks about the humility of the group.
“I’ve never been involved in a game with four goals disallowed. Some of them are late flags, you celebrate and then the flag goes up. Frustration can get the better of you but we didn’t let that happen. We left it very late but it was a brilliant goal by Troy Parrott.”
Troy Parrott wins it for the Republic of Ireland in the 97th minute! 🇮🇪
They got the job done in the end but it was clear from the game that Ireland have to work on moving the ball a lot faster, with much quicker transitions through the thirds to get to where they want to be - sentiments which the former Dundalk boss shares.
“We needed to inject greater tempo into our build up, and [improve] the quality of crossing in the final third and our reluctance to cross, sometimes,” said Kenny.
“We needed to pass into the feet of our front three quicker. But it’s easier on paper: they are a big team and they were dealing with crosses well. If Chieo’s [Chiedozie Ogbene] goal goes in [in the eighth minute], like Qatar, they have to open up.
“Some things worked, some things didn’t work, we learned a good deal from the game. There are good points and points to improve on.”
The style of football that Kenny is trying to implement won’t produce miracles overnight but there are already signs that progress is being made as Ireland have now gone seven games unbeaten, keeping four clean sheets in that run. They have been a blend of World Cup qualifiers and friendlies, but as we already know Ireland have no chance of reaching the Qatar-based tournament later this year, but there is a universal desire to head to Germany for Euro 2024, which will be eight years after their last major tournament appearance at Euro 2016.
They have seen some positive results in recent months but they will need to make their progress count in the summer during the next international break which will see them compete with Ukraine, Scotland and Armenia in the competitive UEFA Nations League.
A successful Nations League campaign provides a giant step toward Euro 2024 qualification and Kenny’s side will have a chance to prove that they are a team capable of battling for a place in Germany. The Scotland test in particular will be interesting as it will give Kenny an estimation of how close they are to their neighbouring nations who have undergone their own resurgences in recent years, and he will already be thinking about how he can stun their Nations League rivals and send a warning to the rest of Europe.
Ireland have been in a national slump for far too long, but a brighter future could lie ahead of Stephen Kenny and co. The Nations League this summer provides the chance for some competitive wins, ahead of the quest to make it to Germany in 2024.