Vera Pauw got the win she desired to christen her first match in charge of Ireland women’s team. This, though, was a far from convincing display before a record crowd of 5,328 at Tallaght Stadium in their Euro 2021 qualifier.
Despite running up a 2-0 lead, defensive frailties were punished as Ukraine drew level before a second half own goal gave Ireland victory.
Two wins from two at home puts Ireland second in Group I behind runaway leaders Germany, six points ahead of Greece in third place.
“We had them in our pocket but we gave it away ourselves,” said Pauw last night. “We reorganised. It’s amazing. I’ve seen this team fighting for a win in a way not many teams can.”
Pauw made four changes from the side that beat Montenegro 2-0 at the same venue last month with Manchester City left-back Megan Campbell, back after an almost two-year absence, the most notable returnee.
Keeva Keenan came in at right-back, Megan Connolly returned in midfield and Heather Payne to the the right side of the attack.
Second seeds in the group, Ukraine, ranked joint 25th in the World, seven places above Ireland, made three changes from losing 8-0 to Germany on Saturday. That was their second defeat by the same scoreline to a hugely impressive German side who are expected to romp to qualification having beaten Greece 5-0 earlier yesterday.
Those heavy defeats to Germany all the more surprising given that Ukraine, though they didn’t qualify for last year’s World Cup finals, had a notable 1-0 home win just last year over Sweden who went on to beat England for third place in France.
Against Ukraine’s five at the back, Ireland’s 4-3-3 started on the front foot.
Campbell got an early chance to use her remarkable long throw, finding the head of Louise Quinn whose effort flew wide.
Minutes later Quinn’s lobbed through ball found the run of Rianna Jarrett who blazed her volley off target.
Ukraine had a bite about them with Veronika Andrukhiv yellow carded for a late challenge on Ireland skipper Katie McCabe 12 minutes in.
Despite dominating possession, Ireland struggled initially to create much in the final third.
Though that changed utterly just past the mid-way point of the half when Pauw’s side scored twice in quick succession.
The first clear-cut chance arrived on 24 minutes and again it stemmed from one of Campbell’s long throws. Diane Caldwell’s flicked header was parried on the line by keeper Kateryna Samson, with Quinn prodding the loose ball wide.
The breakthrough came a minute later from a superb move that carved Ukraine open.
Denis O’Sullivan threaded a ball through to Barrett, who skipped by right-back Tamila Khimich to pull it back for McCabe to sweep home off her left foot.
Three minutes later Ireland doubled their lead.
McCabe whipped over their first corner of the game for Jarrett to score with a close-range header.
Seemingly in command, Ireland gifted Ukraine a route back into the game with the concession of two dreadfully soft goals.
Goalkeeper Marie Hourihan was at fault for the first on 34 minutes. She flapped at a free kick in from the right to allow Lyubov Shmatko to shoot home the loose ball.
Further poor defending was clinically punished on 42 minutes. Connolly missed her kick in attempting to clear a cross. The mistake was pounced on by an alert Olha Ovdiychuk who found the net off a post.
Quinn was close to restoring Ireland’s lead a minute into the second half, forcing a corner from Samson with a header from a Connolly free kick.
The winner came from a calamitous own goal on 52 minutes. Jarrett did exceptionally well to pull the ball back on the left end line. Samson could only parry the ball into the path of O’Sullivan whose shot was cleared off the line by Shmatko, only to go in off the knee of team-mate Natiya Pantsulaya.
The game remained tight with Ukraine pressing for an equaliser in the final quarter.
And they might have got it on 74 minutes but for Swiss referee Désirée Grundbacher being unimpressed by what looked a foul inside the are by Keeva Keenan on Ovdiychuk.
Hourihan then redeemed her first half howler with a one-handed save to push a shot from Ukraine skipper Daryna Apanaschenko round a post in stoppage time.
Pauw had special praise for player of the match Jarrett. “Rianna was amazing. She was doing things we’ve never seen from her before,” Paul told RTÉ. Next up for Pauw and Ireland in Group I is a clash with Greece in Athens on November 12.
Ireland: Hourihan; Keenan, Caldwell, Quinn, Campbell; Connolly, Fahey, O’Sullivan; Payne (Kiernan, 71), Jarrett, McCabe.
Ukraine: Samson; Khimich, Pantsulaya, Apanaschenko, Shamtko, Basanska; Adrukhiv, Andrushchak (Kunina, 86), Kitayeva, Ovdiychuk; Kalina (Romanenko, 69).
Referee: Désirée Grundbacher (SWI)