Ireland’s goal drought drags on against Finland as Kenny seeks solutions

Finland 1 Republic of Ireland 0

About the best Stephen Kenny can hope for regarding this game is that it comes to be remembered in something like the way the Olomouc friendly against the Czech Republic 22 years ago has.

Damien Duff and Robbie Keane made their debuts that day. If Dara O’Shea and Jason Knight make a quarter of that pair’s impact over the coming decade, they will have had decent international careers and this defeat in Helsinki will gain a more positive place in history.

The ongoing absence of a new Keane will have been the more immediate talking point here as Ireland completed another 90 minutes without scoring. Again there were missed chances to rue and a really fine injury-time save from Lukas Hradecky to keep Ronan Curtis’s close-range header out . . . the stop seeming all the more impressive given how little the home side’s goalkeeper had been worked up until then.

The visitors maintained their recent improvement in terms of possession and passes, almost matching their hosts on both counts but almost from the start they played themselves into more trouble through their mistakes and did very well on a couple of occasions to save themselves in difficult situations.

Their luck ran out 67 minutes in when a calamitously careless attempt to play their way out from the back was punished ruthlessly by the home wide with Fredrik Jensen scoring after getting a second bite of the cherry thanks to O’Shea, whose error under pressure will cast a shadow over the memory of the day he first played senior football for his country.

There were at least half a dozen chances on target here compared to just one against Wales but for the most part, Kenny’s players didn’t look all that much more likely to score. The problem is acute at this stage with just one goal to show for the manager’s first 480 minutes in charge, which would look pretty stark in ordinary circumstances. The only thing being that circumstances just now are obviously anything but ordinary.

Aaron Connolly was, as expected, sent straight back into the team while Kenny went for Seani Maguire up front and Daryl Horgan on the right. All worked hard but for the most part only the Brighton striker posed real problems for the home side’s defence and there was a lack of conviction to the side’s attacking play that cost them at critical moments through the first half.

Both of their shots on target – one from Connolly after he had sidestepped inside Tim Sparv then cut across the edge of the area from the left and the other from Jeff Hendrick – were tame and easily dealt with. And when the team’s best chance fell to Maguire after Connolly had found him in a bit of space between two defenders, the striker’s first touch badly let him down.

Finland’s Glen Kamara in action against Jayson Molumby of the Republic of Ireland during the Uefa Nations League game at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. Photograph: Kimmo Brandt/EPA
Finland’s Glen Kamara in action against Jayson Molumby of the Republic of Ireland during the Uefa Nations League game at the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki. Photograph: Kimmo Brandt/EPA

The Finns, by contrast, were at their best on the fairly rare occasions they made it forward into the final third of the pitch with the movement of Teemu Pukki and Jensen causing the Irish far more difficulty

Left back Jere Uronen’s passing was the sources of several of their better moves, which were a little more inventive that Ireland’s and seemed to involve a little more understanding between the various players. Robert Taylor and Pyry Soiri linked up for the best of them with the latter then rather neatly playing Pukki in behind O’Shea for a shot that flew low across the Irish goal and narrowly wide of the far post.

Kenny waited less than 10 minutes of the second half before seeking to add a bit more bite to the Irish attack. The manager brought on Robbie Brady at that stage for Maguire with Horgan shifting sides and Connolly pushing up front.

There was some improvement but Connolly, for all his obvious talent, lacked a bit of composure in front of goal, and the closest Ireland came to scoring before the closing minutes was when Enda Stevens was suddenly presented with an unexpected chance to shoot by some poor defending and the Irish left back clipped the top of the angle.

When it came, there was a similar theme to the Finnish goal which was all down to opportunism on the part of the Finns and the inclination of their opponents to invite trouble on themselves.

There was a fair bit of blame to go around and Darren Randolph must shoulder some for a weakly played kick-out that seemed to catch Matt Doherty by surprise. The Spurs right back should have been far more alert to the danger as Pukki stole in to take possession then push on down the left side of the area.

The Dubliner virtually stood and watched then as the Norwich striker crossed to Jensen just beyond the far post, and though his first attempt was poor O’Shea headed it straight back to him after having lost his own footing. The 23-year-old Finn, who also scored in Dublin, didn’t need to be asked a third time.

Ireland reacted, as they tend to, with a greater display of urgency but despite some late pressure they couldn’t get the goal the needed to salvage a draw.

The players looked dejected as the game ended but after so much coronavirus related chaos and now another disappointment to deal with, the new manager might at least be relieved that an international window which had offered such rich rewards, is now behind him.

FINLAND: Hradecky (Bayer Leverkusen); Granlund (Orebro), Toivio (Hancek), Arajuuri (Pafos), Uronen (Genk); Soiri (Esbjerg), Sparv (AEL), Kamara (Rangers), Taylor (Brann); Pukki (Norwich City), Jensen (Augsburg).

Subs: Niskanen (Ingolstadt) for Soiri (half-time), Schuller (HJK) for Kanarva (75 mins), Pohjanpalo (Union Berlin) for Pukki (81 mins), Kauko (Esbjerg) for Jensen and Raitala (Montral Impact) for Granlund (both 86 mins).

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Randolph (West Ham); Doherty (Tottenham Hotspur), Duffy (Celtic), O’Shea (West Brom), Stevens (Sheffield United); Molumby (Brighton), Hourihane (Aston Villa); Horgan (Wycombe Wanderers), Hendrick (Newcastle United), Connolly (Brighton); Maguire (Preston North End).

Subs: Brady (Burnley) for Maguire (53 mins), Curtis (Portsmouth) for Horgan and Idah (Norwich City) for Hendrick (both 78 mins), Knight (Derby County) for Molumby (84 mins).

Referee: L Tschudi (Switzerland).