Duffy delivers as Ireland dig out point in Copenhagen

The last time Shane Duffy scored against Denmark with a header…well, do we really need to go through all that again?

Duffy delivers as Ireland dig out point in Copenhagen

[team1]Denmark[/team1][score1]1[/score1][team2]Ireland[/team2][score2]1[/score2][/score]

The last time Shane Duffy scored against Denmark with a header…well, do we really need to go through all that again?

Thankfully, we didn’t have to tonight in Copenhagen, the big defender’s 85th minute goal this time having the final say on a night when Ireland secured a vital Euro 2020 qualifying point – and did it the hard way, coming from behind to salvage a 1-1 draw.

With one obvious exception over which we will draw a discreet veil, recurring scoreless draws against Denmark under Martin O’Neill had intensified the clamour for regime change yet, qualification being a results business, there would have been few of the previous manager’s critics unwilling to accept a little more of the same in the Parken Stadium tonight.

As it was, seeing Ireland cancel out a Danish lead, and doing so with only minutes to spare, felt a whole lot better than that at the end.

Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

There were no surprises in the Irish starting IX, McCarthy as good as his heavily hinted word in the build-up to this game when he had all but confirmed that he saw no reason to change the side which performed with distinction in beating Georgia at the Aviva.

But, encouraging as that night in March was, Denmark at home in Fortress Parken were always going to present a much more searching examination of the new manager’s new-look Irish team, with breakthrough men David McGoldrick and Conor Hourihane once more handed prominent roles.

There were no major surprises in Age Hareide’s team either, with the familiar big names in red and white – the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Thomas Delaney, Yussuf Poulsen and, the main man, Christian Eriksen – all on board for another meeting with, as Delaney had put it earlier this week, one of the most “annoying” sides in world football.

The last time these two sides met, in a Nations League dead rubber in Aarhus last November, conditions were so frigid that our hosts thoughtfully provided blankets in the press box to keep us sensitive scribes warm, though as a non-event wearily unfolded on the field of play, the greater temptation was to use them as an aid to comforting sleep.

Tonight in Copenhagen, the conditions were positively balmy, with blue skies still visible above the vaulting upright stands of the Parken as Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir – a man not so fondly remembered by Irish fans for showing red cards to Keith Andrews and John O’Shea in the past – got proceedings under way.

And it was clear from the first blast of the whistle, as Irish players immediately pressed high up the pitch, closed down space and snapped into tackles, that the visitors’ intention was not to allow the home side the luxury of settling into their passing game from back to front.

But for all the intensity of purpose in Ireland’s start, both on and off the ball, it was Darren Randolph who had to make the first save of the night, scrambling across his goal in the 11th minute to turn a Christian Eriksen free-kick around the post at the expense of a corner.

And, barely two minutes later, the ‘keeper was called into action again, getting down well to stop a low drive from Martin Braithwaite.

Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ireland had their first sight of goal in the 14th minute, Hourihane’s superb free-kick delivery inviting Shane Duffy to attack the six-yard box and cause panic stations almost on the goal line before a relieved Schmeichel got hands on the ball.

But, with the action swinging from end to end, it was soon Ireland’s turn to take a deep breath as a diving Thomas Delaney powered a header wide of Randolph’s post.

With Eriksen growing in influence and the Danes looking ever more threatening as they strung a few passes together, the Irish defence was coming under sustained periods of pressure but did enough to hold out and take the game scoreless into the break.

One that was doubtless appreciated by both sides since, if it had hardly touched great aesthetic heights, neither had a pretty relentless and physically draining first 45 minutes shown any sign of succumbing to end of season doldrums.

Denmark's Pierre Emile Hojbjerg scores. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Denmark's Pierre Emile Hojbjerg scores. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

After the restart both ‘keepers were soon centre-stage, Randolph excelling again as the last line of defence when it looked like Poulsen must score before, at the other end, McClean drew a near-post save from Schmeichel.

But it was to the Danes that the real chances kept coming, their own profligacy in front of goal, as much as last-ditch Irish defending, somehow keeping the scoreboard bare.

As the game entered its final phase, the more of a scrap it became, a state of affairs which might have seemed to suit the visitors rather more than the hosts.

But that was only until the 75th minute when, having barely been on the pitch, substitute Pierre Emile Hojbjerg timed his run perfectly to beat Richard Keogh to a Jens Stryger Larsen cross and flash a potent header past Randolph.

But on a night for subs, Ireland weren’t done yet. In the 85th minute, Alan Judge, who’d come on just after the hour mark for Robbie Brady – and who, in an unfortunate postscript, needed lengthy treatment on the pitch for a broken wrist after the final whistle - curled a wonderful free from the right into the box and, this time, Shane Duffy’s contact with his head was unerring and unstoppable, prompting an eruption of joy among the Irish fans behind Kasper Schmeichel’s goal.

And it might even have got better for the visitors had Schmeichel not prevented McClean giving Ireland an unlikely victory with a breakaway attempt on goal with two minutes remaining on the clock.

But, at the end, as Irish supporters stayed on in the deserted stadium to sing their acclaim into the darkening Danish night, it was pretty clear that, especially having seen their side come from behind so late, for them this was one of those draws which really did feel like a win.

Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

DENMARK:

Schmeichel, Dalsgaard, Christensen, Kjar, S Larsen; Delaney, Poulsen, Schone (Hojbjerg 72), Eriksen, Braithwaite (Dolberg 65), Jorgensen.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND:

Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Keogh, Stevens, Whelan, Hourihane (Hogan 81), Hendrick, Brady (Judge 66), McClean, McGoldrick (Robinson 87).

Referee:

Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).

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