The Republic of Ireland avoided relegation to League C but their worrying goal drought continues after 0-0 draw against Bulgaria in the Nations League.
Stephen Kenny’s side knew a point would see them stay in League B for another campaign at the expense of their opponents and they did just that, although it was a rather uninspiring match in Dublin between two teams bereft of confidence.
Both sides lacked a real cutting edge – Bulgaria had the only shot on target in the game – with some poor passing throughout, but the Republic of Ireland did have the best chance of the game when Robbie Brady rattled the crossbar with a superb curling effort in the second half.
The Republic of Ireland have now gone over 11 hours without a goal and will end a dismal 2020 without an international victory, the first time they have been winless in a calendar year since 1971.
While the draw was enough to avoid relegation, it is not likely to be enough to see them keep their place in pot 2 for the World Cup qualifying draw on December 7. These are decided on FIFA rankings, which is expected to go down from their current 20th spot at the end of the month and put them into the trickier pot 3.
How the Republic of Ireland toiled to a draw
In a neat twist of fate, the Republic of Ireland’s last win came in a 3-1 friendly victory against Bulgaria at home in September 2019 and both sides had a sight of goal early on. Inside two minutes, Bozhidar Kraev’s effort was well blocked before Ronan Curtis took advantage of a poor pass to wriggle in front of Aleksandar Tsvetkov before sending a cross into the area. However, James Collins just missed the delivery and clattered into the post instead.
Bulgaria twice went close in the middle of the half as Darren Randolph – earning his 50th Republic of Ireland cap – was tested. The hosts were guilty of some horrible misplaced pass and were almost caught out in the 26th minute. Jason Knight’s attempted ball for Shane Duffy was intercepted by Dimitar Iliev, with his shot forcing a flapped save from Randolph before the goalkeeper pounced on the loose ball.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (6), Manning (6), Duffy (6), Long (7), O’Shea (7), Hourihane (6), Brady (7), Knight (8), Horgan (7), Collins (6), Curtis (6).
Subs used: Cullen (6), Byrne (6), Parrott (n/a), Maguire (n/a), Christie (n/a).
Bulgaria: Lukov (5), Popov (6), Angelov (6), Dimitrov (7), Cicinho (7), Delev (6), Malinov (6), Ivanov (7), Iliev (7), Tsvetkov (6), Kraev (7).
Subs used: Vasilev (5), Kovachev (5), Karagaren (5), Aleksandrov (n/a).
Man of the match: Jason Knight.
Not long after, Galin Ivanov burst into the area after a neat lay-off from Iliev, but debutant Ryan Manning did well to smuggle the ball from his feet and into Randolph’s waiting hands.
As the Republic of Ireland’s goal drought ticked past the 10-hour mark, they began to assert some authority. Martin Lukov’s first save came from a wonderful Brady free-kick, which was pushed away by the goalkeeper. Then, Daryl Horgan did superbly well to hold the ball up with Cicinho lurking, but his eventual cross was swung over the crossbar by Collins.
- Stephen Kenny made five changes, although most were expected. Matt Doherty and James McClean tested positive for Covid-19 and are self-isolating while Jeff Hendrick and Jayson Molumby were suspended. Adam Idah was also ruled out with injury. Ryan Manning made his first appearance and start for the senior squad, with Connor Hourihane, James Collins, Ronan Curtis and Jason Knight also coming into the XI.
- Bulgaria boss Georgi Dermendzhiev also had to use the depth of his squad with Covid-19 absentees Hristian Vassilev, Dimitar Velkovski and Vasil Bozhikov among 10 unavailable players. He handed starts to Georgi Angelov, Cicinho, Aleksandar Tsvetkov and Dimitar Iliev.
The Republic of Ireland had two huge chances fall their way early in the second half. The first saw Collins skim the side of the net with his side-footed effort after doing wonderfully well to get ahead of his marker. Then, Knight’s brilliant work in midfield allowed him to find an unmarked Curtis but his effort went well over the crossbar.
Bulgaria had some patient possession, but their best chance of the half came from a corner as Kristian Dimitrov nodded the delivery just wide. The Republic of Ireland’s closest effort soon followed as Brady smacked the crossbar. After a neat lay-off from Dara O’Shea, the forward darted past Tsvetkov before his curling strike hammered off the top of the woodwork before going wide.
The hosts should have wrapped things up with 10 minutes to play. Conor Hourihane delivered a wonderful cross into the area, with Dimitrov just glancing a header onto it. Knight was waiting in the six-yard box with Collins just behind, but both missed by inches as the hosts’ goal drought continues to rumble into 2021.
Man of the match – Jason Knight
You would not have noticed that Knight has also played in six Sky Bet Championship fixtures for Derby this season. Then again, he did look like a man with a point to prove.
The 19-year-old worked tirelessly throughout as the Republic of Ireland toiled to a goalless draw, making the tackles when needed and trying to send his team-mates forward. There was a scruffy pass in the first half that almost allowed Bulgaria through, but he burst back to help out his team-mates which is exactly what any fan wants to see.
Kenny: Difficult two international windows
Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny said: “The fact that the players have had to endure what they’ve had to
endure over the last couple of months, having to deal with Covid-related nearly every day in the camp, it’s very unsettling for players, very unsettling for them in their lives and all their connected families.
“It’s been a very, very difficult period over the last two windows with all of that. We lost some players with bereavement in this camp – James McCarthy’s father unfortunately passed away – and we lost players through injury.
“There were a lot of issues and in the last two camps, we were probably missing players in double figures.
“But regardless, all of the players showed a brilliant mentality, gave everything of themselves took everything in their stride and just applied themselves correctly, so I applaud them for that and for their determination even though we didn’t win the game.
“It was very important that we weren’t relegated, that was very important. It’s not something to celebrate, not particularly.
“We’ve used the Nations League to blood a lot of players, some by design and some because we’ve had an inordinate number of players ruled out for a variety of reasons. That will stand us well in the future, for sure, and it gives us more options.
“The team that wasn’t available tonight would be stronger than the team that was – and that’s not being disparaging. We’d just so many frontline players not available tonight.
“But having said that, now some players have really put themselves in contention to challenge for places and that’s what we needed.”
- Republic of Ireland have now gone seven straight matches without scoring in all competitions, extending their record goalless streak.
- Republic of Ireland have failed to win nine consecutive games in all competitions for the first time since June 1996.
- Bulgaria have scored just two goals from 50 shots in this season’s UEFA Nations League, while Republic of Ireland have scored just one goal from 66 shots.
- Republic of Ireland have yet to win under Stephen Kenny (P8 D4 L4), scoring just one goal in the process, while the Irish failed to land a shot on target tonight.
- Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph made his 50th appearance for the Boys in Green.
The next big event for European teams is the draw for the World Cup Qualifiers on December 7. Fixtures for the next international break in March 2021 – which will include the first qualifiers – are yet to be announced.