Callum Robinson’s first international goal for a year spared the Republic of Ireland blushes as they ended 2022 with a narrow friendly victory in Malta.
Robinson’s 55th-minute strike secured a 1-0 win on a night when Ireland were once again frustrated for long periods, this time by a team sitting 119 places below them in the FIFA power rankings, leaving manager Stephen Kenny with more questions but answers ahead. Euro 2024 qualifiers.
That the opportunity was presented to the chairman through mistakes rather than creative brilliance – even if his finishing was good – was perhaps fitting as Kenny’s men for the second time in four days looked to break down a side intent on sitting deep and denying them about space in the last trimester.
A 1-0 win was the least they needed to take part in their opener against reigning world champions France in March, but while it was something Greece’s Group B rivals couldn’t achieve in Malta three days earlier, it will little to inspire confidence. for that campaign.
After enduring a disappointing first 45 minutes against Norway on Thursday night, Ireland started with more determination at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium as Alan Browne cut open the home defense with a ball to Chiedozie Ogbene’s blocked cross before Robinson spotted. a fifth minute attempt missed.
However, the Irish were lucky to escape when the hosts got in behind Seamus Coleman and Oxford forward Jodi Jones found himself in space, but he was unable to beat Caoimhin Kelleher with his 12th minute drive.
Malta, who have been drawn in the same Euro 2024 group as England and Italy, were working hard to frustrate the visitors, but Nathan Collins picked out Robinson’s 23rd-minute run and it took Enrico Pepe’s intervention to deny Ogbene a defeat from the field. A cross from the Cardiff striker.
Midfielder Jamie McGrath turned from long range over the corner of the bar and Matt Doherty failed to latch on to Coleman’s ball over the top, but the crowded ranks of the Maltese defense held their ground.
Browne instinctively headed Doherty’s ball over the bar after McGrath had crossed from the left as the break approached, but there was little cause for celebration at the whistle.
Teddy Teuma scraped a 48th-minute free-kick straight into the defensive wall after Collins had lost Jones, but McGrath was no more successful at the other end after Alexander Satariano brought down Josh Cullen on the wing.
Inevitably, it was a mistake that ultimately sparked the breakthrough as Robinson ran at Malta captain Matthew Guillaumier who took a woefully low pass back and beat goalkeeper Henry Bonello before slotting the ball into the empty net.
Browne forced Bonello into the net in the 61st minute with a firm header from McGrath’s free-kick, but Kelleher had to dive at full length to keep out substitute Steven Pisani’s effort after Joseph Mbong had been allowed to go deep into enemy territory.
Bristol City midfielder Mark Sykes made his debut as a substitute late on and Ireland pushed for a second and they were unlucky not to get it when substitute Callum O’Dowda’s late effort came back off the post with Bonello helpless.