Underwhelming end to Ireland’s 2022 as Callum Robinson secures victory over Malta

Underwhelming end to Ireland’s 2022 as Callum Robinson secures victory over Malta

Malta 0

Ireland 1

UNREMARKABLE AND largely forgetful for Ireland. An underwhelming end to a year that at times offered far more promise but was, ultimately, unsuccessful.

It finishes with a victory, at least, one that came courtesy of Callum Robinson’s first goal for his country since November 2021.

Fortune favoured Stephen Kenny’s side on a night when they laboured for long periods.

Robinson capitalised on a mistake 10 minutes into the second half and tapped home to an empty net.

If only such gifts were forthcoming over the course of the last 11 months. France will be Ireland’s next opponents in competitive action when the European Championship qualifiers begin in March.

Kenny will have plenty to ponder in the meantime, a visit to the World Cup as part of those preparations now on the cards for the Ireland boss.

Jamie McGrath was a standout performer, but it was not difficult for an Ireland player to put their head above the parapet.

This was exactly what you would expect from an international friendly being played after the curtain raiser at the World Cup earlier in the day.

Ireland’s lack of creativity was compounded by failing to make the most of when they did get into promising positions.

Opportunities did come and while they were not glaring they are the type it seems this Ireland team are only capable of mustering up. Converting them then seems even more important.

After just four minutes Chiedozie Ogbene ran into space down the right channel after anticipating Alan Browne’s around-the-corner pass.

With striker partner Callum Robinson supporting in the box, the Rotherham United forward was unable to beat the first man with a cross.

These are the instances when sharper end product will be a necessity come March. Kenny referenced pre-match that this friendly was part of the bigger picture preparations for the European Championship qualifier with France next spring.

Kylian Mbappe and Co have much bigger things on their mind right now given their World Cup campaign begins against Australia on Tuesday, so they will hardly be paying much attention to how Ireland fare here.

Josh Cullen is on the end of a tough tackle.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Malta provided a scare on 12 minutes when Seamus Coleman misread a long punt into Ireland’s half and was spun by Teddy Tuema.

He drove towards the penalty box and teed up Jodi Jones coming in from the right. The Oxford United winger struck a tame shot that was easily held by Caoimhín Kelleher – preferred to Gavin Bazunu – and that was the sole extent of the hosts’ ambition.

Ireland dominated the ball, but Malta still looked to be in control of what was happening in front of them.

Nathan Collins, switched to the left side of the back three to allow Coleman return on the right side, fed a sharp, incisive pass into the feet of Robinson who then found the yard of space on the left to try and cross for the unmarked Obgene who would have had an easy tap in. Centre back Enrico Pepe was alive to the threat, intercepting the pass, and after 23 minutes Ireland finally had a moment of penetration to build on.

Alan Browne, brimming with confidence after a sublime goal on Thursday, attempted to outdo himself with a chest and volley from outside the box five minutes later but he skied his effort over the bar.

Matt Doherty was a willing outlet from right wing back and he was instrumental in the best opportunity of the first half, controlling Jamie McGrath’s floated cross to the back post and then playing a clever pass through the legs of Ryan Camenzuli for Browne to latch onto.

The midfielder’s outstretched foot could only make slight contact and his close-range effort trickled wide.

Just when it looked as if Ireland may toil, Malta gifted the visitors their opener. It came 10 minutes after the re-start and originated 10 yards inside Ireland’s half.

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A throw in was bizarrely played long back into Malta territory by Ryan Camenzuli, and when Pepe fed a pass into captain Matthew Guillaumier, his return ball was loose.

Robinson was a welcome recipient and with goalkeeper Henry Bonello stranded having not anticipated the gravity of the mistake, the Cardiff City striker had a simple tap in to an empty net.

Malta gave a brief reminder of the danger of the break when substitute Steve Pisani forced Kelleher into a save

A flurry of changes from both sides only added to the disjoined nature of the evening, one in which saw some of the 700 travelling boo the Ireland players off the pitch at half time before being drowned out by more supportive songs.

When Evan Ferguson replaced Ogbene with 77 minutes gone that gave this friendly an added level of significance given a goal would have meant the 18-year-old became Ireland’s youngest ever scorer at senior men’s international level.

Robbie Keane holds that record and it remains intact, the final significant act of what turned out to be an unremarkable year being Callum O’Dowda smashing a shot off the post with five minutes to go.

Ferguson also had a shot blocked in injury time on a night that didn’t allow for history and will be easily forgotten.

IRELAND: Kelleher; Coleman (c), Egan, Collins; Doherty, Cullen, McGrath, Browne (Hendrick 66), McClean (O’Dowda 66); Robinson (Sykes 85), Ogbene (Ferguson 77).

MALTA: Bonello; Apap, Pepe (Shaw 73), J Borg; J Mbong, Guillaumier (c), Kristensen (D. Vella 20) (S. Pisani 53), Camenzuli; Jones (Gambin 68), Satariano (Montebello 73), Teuma (Nwoko 88).

Referee: Chrysovalantis Theouli (CYP).

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