Work in progress
Shane Duffy’s late leveller in Bulgaria on Thursday gave Stephen Kenny a point from his first game as Ireland manager.
The old fashioned goal was a contrast from Ireland’s approach in the game, with Kenny trying to implement a new style of play. Finland’s visit to Dublin for a Sunday evening encounter is the opportunity to show what lessons were learned.
Finland were unlucky to kick off their campaign with a defeat to Wales. The Euro 2020 qualifiers created a number of opportunities that they failed to convert. Their historic achievement – the Euros will be their first ever major finals appearances – was built on the remarkable exploits of Norwich’s Teemu Pukki who scored ten times in their group. Pukki hasn’t scored since before the shutdown and endured a frustrating evening.
Kenny’s first game hinted at a work in progress and Ireland will fancy their chances here.
His mission is to alter the perception of Irish sides and 59pc possession away from home in a competitive qualifier was a sign of what’s to come.
That said, there was an absence of real penetration and it was low tempo stuff for long spells, perhaps a product of the fact that the Irish side were coming back out of pre-season mode.
In normal circumstances, the cliched line would be that a lively home crowd in Dublin might stir the senses but Kenny will have to wait for a while to sample that atmosphere.
Still, the game attracted considerable scrutiny in Ireland, especially as the new manager wasn’t afraid to drop stalwarts such as Seamus Coleman and James McClean in favour of Matt Doherty and Aaron Connolly respectively.
David McGoldrick returns from injury and his wellbeing will determine if he gets the nod ahead of Norwich teenager Adam Idah who was pitched in for a senior debut in Sofia. The change of style and focus on youth hinted at a long term mission and that’s why there is perhaps a reluctance to get sucked into a strong play on the hosts in this fixture.
Finland have a poor record on their travels, with their Euros success built on their home form. And it’s probably understandable that Ireland would be priced in or around the [1.83] mark. Kenny should have his team fired up for this occasion and there’s no temptation to lay at those odds. But the lesson of Thursday is that it’s too soon to truly bet the hosts without any conviction either.
Duffy’s mixed fortunes
Duffy commanded headlines in Bulgaria but the defender admitted afterwards that he had played poorly and was rusty.
He had an interrupted pre-season and completed a loan move from Brighton to Celtic before the game. Duffy was caught out of position for the Bulgarian goal and the noticeable aspect of Ireland’s positive outlook was they had actually left space on the break and through the middle that a good side would exploit with slick passing.
Kenny operated a 4-3-3 with James McCarthy as a sitting midfielder but he also looked in need of the run-out and there were gaps between defence and midfield. The question mark is if he tweaks with the formation but, either way, Ireland are going to give up chances here. There is an element of risk and reward in their strategy. However, the return of McGoldrick will strengthen the attack and his creativity should supply Ireland’s wide attackers.
For all that there’s a danger of early season lethargy blunting attacking effectiveness, there are enough reasons to come down strongly on the view that the [2.4] about both teams scoring is overpriced. This is the most appealing bet on offer.
Connolly may face competition from McClean here but he will relish the opportunity for a first Aviva Stadium appearance albeit without his family there. He prefers to operate centrally but Kenny uses the 20-year-old as a left sided attacker and he was Ireland’s busiest forward player in Bulgaria and really should have scored before the interval when his pressing forced a mistake from a short kick out.
Add McGoldrick’s link play and the wide spaces of Ireland’s base into the mix and there should be ample opportunities for Connolly to get the opportunity to make up for his Bulgarian miss. The 23/10 about Connolly scoring appeals. He’s 11/2 in the various first and last goal markets.