Liam Mackey at the Aviva Stadium
Ireland might have got their first Nations League point on the board but this flat scoreless draw at home to Denmark won’t do much to ease the pressure on Martin O’Neill or boost confidence that his struggling team can get a first win of the campaign when Wales play here on Tuesday.
In truth, the best chances of the night fell to the Danes, who were largely comfortable throughout, with a modest Irish spell of pressure towards the end counting as too little and too late.
In his starting line-up, the manager finally found a place for Matt Doherty, handing the in-form Wolves man his competitive debut in the right wing-back role, with James McClean occupying the same berth on the opposite flank.
Ireland’s James McClean and Henrik Dalsgaard of Denmark. Photo: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Doherty’s selection didn’t mean the omission of Seamus Coleman’s regular deputy, Cyrus Christie, however, the Fulham man deployed in an advanced midfield role.
Skipper for the night Richard Keogh joined Shane Duffy and Kevin Long in the back three while, after it only recently looked like his Irish career was going into cold storage, there was a quick return to action for Harry Arter who lined out alongside Callum O’Dowda and Christie in the middle of the park, with Jeff Hendrick tasked with supporting Shane Long upfront.
The big absentee for Denmark, of course, was their star man Christian Eriksen, with Kasper Dolberg of Ajax the one newcomer to the side which beat Wales 2-0 last time out in the Nations League.
Tempers frayed early on with Danish players taking exception to Jeff Hendrick playing on – and squandering a clear goal chance – after the visitors looked to call a halt when spotting that Arter had dropped to the ground with a knock. Once back on his feet, Arter then did little to lower the temperature with a wild challenge on Martin Braiitwaite which earned the Cardiff man a yellow card.
A deceptively promising start for Ireland quickly gave way to an all too familiar spectacle as Denmark began to dominate possession and peg the green shirts back into their own half, even if there was little enough from the visitors to directly trouble Darren Randolph in the opening 30 minutes.
More worryingly, Ireland, whose collective performance was woefully lacking in tempo and intensity, were offering next to nothing at the other end, Shane Long once more cutting an isolated figure upfront. As indeed was Doherty out in on the right flank, though he did find himself in the thick of the action once, lucky to get away with some uncertain defending close to the Irish goal-line .
Not surprisingly the closest the home side came to making the breakthrough was from a set-piece, Shane Duffy getting around the back of the Danish defence only to head wide from a Hendrick delivery. But, right on the stroke of half-time, the lively Sisto came much closer for the Danes, his right-footed shot beating Randolph’s dive but striking the outside of the post.
After the break, Callum O’Dowda, who had played on after shipping a heavy knock in the first half, was replaced by Enda Stevens, a substitution which at least had the potentially positive knock-on effect of getting James McClean further up the pitch. Certainly, Ireland were badly in need of a spark, something, anything, to lift the crowd and themselves. Instead, in a low-key atmosphere at times more suited to a testimonial, the Danes continued to boss the ball, almost at their leisure, the Irish struggling even get a kick. Just short of the hour mark, Arter did get in one vital one, mind, clearing Simon Kjaer’s header off the line.
In the 64th minute, O’Neill made his move, sending in Callum Robinson to help out Shane Long in his lonely cause upfront. And, within five minutes, the lively Preston man was involved in Ireland’s best move of the game, an attack which ended with a Christie drive producing a fine save from Kasper Schmeichel.
Finally, the patient and long suffering Aviva had something to excited about but, even with the fresh legs of Aiden O’Brien on for Long, the Irish couldn’t mount the kind of sustained siege that would normally be expected of a home side looking to win a game with time running out. In the end, they were reduced to appealing for a stoppage time penalty after Shane Duffy went done in the box under a challegne but the Spanish referee wasn’t impressed, booking the Derryman for a dive.
Ireland: Randolph, Doherty, Keogh, Duffy, K Long, Christie, Hendrick, Arter (Robinson 64), O’Dowda (Stevens 45), McClean, S Long (O’Brien 82).
Denmark: Schmeichel, Dalsgaard, Kjaer, Jorgensen, Larsen, Braithwaite, Schone, Delaney, Sisto, Dolberg (Christensen 78), Poulsen.
Referee: Javier Estrada