06 September 2020 20:44
Stephen Kenny's wait for a first win as Republic of Ireland manager went on as they suffered a 1-0 home Nations League loss to Finland. Fredrik Jensen made an instant impact from the bench with the only goal of the game in the 63rd minute, while Kenny's men failed to test Lukas Hradecky for much of a tight contest. Ireland struggled to break Finland down in a frustrating first half and were grateful for a big early stop from Darren Randolph at the other end. Robert Taylor's superb pass sent Teemu Pukki clear, but the Norwich City striker could not beat Randolph, who saved smartly with his left boot. Finland came on strong again as Taylor worked Randolph at his near post and, after Pukki dragged just wide, the Ireland goalkeeper made an outstanding fingertip save from Nikolai Alho.
Shane Duffy went remarkably close with two of the 90 minutes still on the clock to producing a carbon copy of his equaliser in Sofia here but Ireland couldn't quite find a way to save themselves against Finland in an eerily silent Aviva Stadium. Finland came alarmingly close to replaying the Bulgaria goal early on when they broke and Robert Taylor played a wonderful first-time ball between the two Irish centre backs. Though the Irish goalkeeper wasn't really seriously troubled again before the goal, the amount of space the visitors' wing backs were allowed to run into out wide meant there was a fairly constant threat on the break and on a couple of occasions the moves reached the point where Joel Pohjanpalo might well have scored if only he had managed a better connection. Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny on the sideline during the Uefa Nations League match against Finland at the Aviva Stadium. By this stage, Ireland were chasing things and having defended poorly as they conceded the goal, the Irish defence were being made to look increasingly uncomfortable by a side that seemed able to pick its way forward from midfield and into the Irish area time after time.
Then the visitors almost enjoyed the perfect start, as a four-man move involving Tim Sparv, Glen Kamara, Robert Taylor and Teemu Pukki played right through the middle of the high Irish line. Talisman Pukki, who scored ten goals in their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, was played in on the left edge of the box with only Randolph to beat. The normally prolific striker in such scenarios opted to place the ball past the advancing Randolph, however, the Irish keeper spread himself well and made a vital save with his left foot. The first Ireland chance came in the 12th minute, as a move started and finished by Harry Arter ended up testing Finland keeper Lukas Hradecky. The ball was only half-cleared as it fell to the feet of the arriving Arter and his well-struck shot from outside the box stung the stopper's hands as he saved.
Finland's next chance came from a corner in the 22nd minute as big centre-half Juhani Ojala lost his marker and got a good head on the looping ball to the back post, however, he was unable to direct the ball on target. Three minutes later, the visitors had Ireland scrambling back towards their own goal as Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara sent a delightful defence splitting ball out to the always available Nikolai Alho bombing up the right flank. Goalmouth chances remained a rarity, however, Ireland did have a penalty shout five minutes before the break when Shane Duffy appeared to be hauled down inside the box from a corner by Ojala. Two chances to lift the ball into the box inside the first five minutes were unable to test the keeper, yet it did herald a good spell of Irish pressure, offering up a great chance for Connolly in the 56th minute after Arter dispossessed Kamara and Idah's deft touch sent the Brighton striker in on the left side of the box. A throw-in from the left found Jensen's feet, before he turned well and fed Pukki who in turn laid it off to the advancing Taylor who rolled a delightful ball across the face of the goal for the substitute to turn home. But with this Ireland advancement, gaps started to appear at the back and Pukki brought another great save out of Randolph with a clever snap-shot from just inside the box. Five minutes later, Randolph was in action again as he made a strong save at his near post from a Taylor effort in from the left. Kenny called on the old guard to save his side from an opening home defeat as he sent James McClean in for the final 15 minutes, however, Finland were maintaining the momentum and almost had a second as a Pukki effort flew just wide of the post following a good move through the middle. And things got even easier for Finland as they knocked the ball about at will inside the Ireland half with the high line long gone, the back four now resembling another era as they sat camped on the edge of their box. Of course, Ireland rallied and an Arter effort was deflected for a corner in the 88th minute, which led to another chance courtesy of that combination of Brady delivery and Duffy header. Four minutes of added time came and went with McGoldrick's placed effort the best Ireland could muster, but it was not enough to level matters in a game which the best team won. IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Enda Stevens, Shane Duffy (capt), John Egan, Matt Doherty; Robbie Brady, Harry Arter, Jayson Molumby; Callum O'Dowda (Callum Robinson 59), Aaron Connolly (James McClean 77), Adam Idah (David McGoldrick 66) FINLAND: Lukas Hradecky; Daniel O'Shaughnessy, Juhani Ojala, Leo Väisänen; Nikolai Alho, Nicholas Hämäläinen (Jere Uronen 79); Tim Sparv (capt), Glen Kamara, Robert Taylor; Joel Pohjanpalo (Fredrik Jensen 63), Teemu Pukki (Rasmus Karjalainen 90+1)