Robbie on the spot saves (some) blushes as Kenny counts his luck

Veteran's late, late penalty provides sweet relief as Ireland's tendency to self-destruct rears its head again
Robbie on the spot saves (some) blushes as Kenny counts his luck

NO MISTAKE: Ireland's Robbie Brady scores a penalty to give Stephen Kenny just his second home win in 11 games. Pic: INPHO/Ben Brady

IRELAND 3 ARMENIA 2

When Stephen Kenny took on his succession plan path to the senior job in 2018, he publicly railed against the age-old tradition of Ireland scrapping a late goal from a set-piece.

His subsequent two-year crash course in the realities of international football ought to have conditioned him to the inevitability of this type of victory, one he‘s thankful for to avoid further spotlight on his reign.

It was the final minute when Robbie Brady’s penalty rescued Ireland, four minutes after Artak Dashyan had committed the handball which was deemed a penalty following a VAR check.

Armenia’s anger at their comeback going up in smoke was apparent, resulting in red cards for Hovhannes Hambardzumyan and the misfortunate Dashyan.

Until that intervention, stemming from a contentious decision to award the corner in the first place, Kenny was staring into another inquest as to how his side squandered a two-goal lead against the bottom seeds, ranked 92nd in the world. In the space of two minutes, they doubled their goal haul from the previous five games.

This wasn’t the champagne football Kenny is wedded to, rather a late rally akin to what went before him under predecessors. That’s nothing to apologise for.

To avoid a repeat of the Yerevan disaster, when slow, pedestrian build-up eventually backfired, Ireland were implored by Kenny to begin brightly with zest and crispness to their passing.

Dominating possession higher up the pitch was a start, enabling Nathan Collins to avail of the space by joining the attack.

When Hendrick spotted the defensive giant on the edge of the penalty area, the space was there to surge into the box but, in two minds, he opted to shoot and sent his effort blazing over.

Width was essential to expose a defence from the Caucuses determined to sit deep and soak up pressure and the first foray arrived on 11 minutes through Jason Knight’s endeavour.

Free on the left, he cut in onto his right foot before telegraphing a pass onto the head of the unmarked Obafemi. Just as it seemed he was about to nod home, the flight of the ball eluded him and he could only glance his header wide.

Quick feet from Troy Parrott won Ireland’s first corner, from which they almost forged the opener.

In a rehearsed move, Brady’s centre found Dara O’Shea at the back post, from where he nodded across for fellow defender Egan to hook wide.

A driving run by Doherty, that swept him past two defenders, on the right, led to a second corner and a second opportunity of perforating the brittle visitors.

Egan and Brady have been teammates for Ireland since they were both 15 and there was symmetry between the pair as the latter’s pinpoint curling delivery hung in the air for Egan to plant his header into the top corner.

An early goal and a platform for Ireland to finish a testing campaign with finesse, signals for a better and more fruitful campaign when the Euro 2024 qualifiers come around in March.

That scenario was slow to emerge, with a series of slack passing debilitating promising moves. A midfield battle became more of a feature, with Jayson Molumby fortunate on the half hour to only see yellow for raking his studs down the shin of Lukas Zelarayan.

Still, when the Armenians finally forged their first corner with five minutes of the half remaining, it was hardly a portent of a swing in direction.

Caution from the guests played into Ireland coasting, underpinned by Gavin Bazunu using his head early in the second half to reroute a long backpass from Matt Doherty.

From a corner Doherty won on 50 minutes, Brady replicated his ploy of targeting O’Shea at the back post, only for the West Bromwich Albion man to angle his effort wide.

Two minutes later, Ireland and Molumby were lucky again not to see red for another blatant foul as Armenia broke. It wouldn't be the first time they’d come out the right side of Rade Obrenović’s calls but Kenny made the correct reaction by substituting his former U21 captain, still fuming and frustrated trudging towards the bench.

Within seconds, any fears of tension vanished through a second goal. O’Shea delivered on Kenny’s instructions to the letter by zipping a pass into Obafemi’s feet 40 yards out, allowing him to swivel away from the static Varazdat Haroyan and get a sight on goal.

He still had work to do but unlike his last screamer against Scotland in June, firing low was the better option and it fizzed beyond the grasp of Davit Yurchenko into the bottom corner. Obafemi stuck his fingers in his ears to celebrate and it should have been the cue for additional bouts of noise from the crowd.

Twice, Collins went close to adding a third, with his head and foot, before Hendrick skewed another shot wide amid the one-way traffic. Yet, Joaquin Caparros is renowned as a wily boss and his couple of substitutions sparked an unlikely revival.

Vahan Bichakhchyan was the catalyst, driving at the defence and unleashing a shot which struck the post. Ireland were too slow to the rebound, with Dashyan following in to smash it home from 20 yards.

Shook by that concession, it got worse within a minute and completely through Ireland's own fault.

Conor Hourihane, on for Molumby, somehow contrived to curl a pass straight into the path of Eduard Spertsyan and the hero of Yerevan required just one touch before bending his right-footer into the far corner past Bazunu.

There would be time for one last section of drama, a chapter to hand Kenny only his second win in 11 home competitive matches. Needs must.

IRELAND: G Bazunu; D O’Shea, N Collins, J Egan; M Doherty, J Molumby (C Hourihane 52), J Hendrick, J Knight (A Browne 76), R Brady; T Parrott (C Robinson 76), M Obafemi (S Hogan 86).

ARMENIA: D Yurchenko; H Hambardzumyan, H Mkoyan (T Voskanyan 60), V Haroyan, A Caliser (K Muradyan 83); J Monroy (A Dashyan 60), A Grigoryan, E Spertsyan, K Bayramyan; L Zelarayan (V Bichakhchyan 69), T Barseghyan (Z Shaghoyan 82).

REFEREE: Rade Obrenović (SVN).

ATTENDANCE: 41018.

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