Football Features

Gibraltar 0-1 Ireland: Five things learned as Mick McCarthy avoids deja vu

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:59, 23 March 2019

Ireland beat Gibraltar 1-0 to get their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign off to a winning start.

Jeff Hendrick scored the only goal of the game shortly after half-time in what was an otherwise poor day for both sides’ attackers.

But, what did we learn from the slender win?

1. Mick McCarthy avoids deja vu

It wasn’t pretty, or very exciting, but Mick McCarthy’s Ireland got off to a winning start in his first game back in charge. The 60-year-old’s last spell as Ireland manager span from 1996 to 2002 and included a run to the World Cup round-of-16.

Back in 1996 it didn’t start well, as McCarthy lost his first game in charge 2-0 to Russia – though there would be no such upset second time around.

Following a poor first-half, the away side could have gone behind shortly after half-time but Darren Randolph was on hand to deny Roy Chipolina’s header from a corner with a good save as the effort looked to be a certain goal.

And moments later, Jeff Hendrick put Ireland in control of the game with a cool finish following a good move.

That would be all that was required for Ireland to take all three points with both sides continuing to struggle in front of goal.

2. Ireland end poor run in front of goal

Despite the new manager getting off to a positive start, it wasn’t plain-sailing for the Republic of Ireland who looked like falling to their age-old problem.

Ireland enjoyed the lion’s share of possession throughout but they could not convert this into serious chances to score. In the first half, the closest Ireland went to scoring was when Seamus Coleman’s cross was headed towards his own goal by Roy Chipolina. But Kyle Goldwin was on hand to keep Gibraltar level with a superb reflex save.

However, they did finally get the breakthrough just three minutes after half-time when Jeff Hendrick got onto the end of a David McGoldrick cross, slotting the ball into the bottom right corner.

Hendrick’s goal ended Ireland’s run of four games without scoring in all competitions. The Boys in Green hadn’t gone five in a row since May 1996, coincidentally when McCarthy was in his first spell in charge.

However, it didn’t mask Ireland’s problems in front of goal.

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3. Gibraltar’s mini-winning streak is definitely over

In October 2018, Gibraltar made a minor wave in the Uefa Nations League D4, beating Armenia and Liechtenstein in consecutive games. The run came as a usually generous Gibraltan defence toughened up, allowing just one goal in the two matches, having conceded at least two in all of their prior competitive games.

But that run was followed by two consecutive losses to close out the Nations League, conceding 10 goals in the process.

And, despite working hard to preserve their clean sheet in the first half, Gibraltar were quickly undone after the break, adding another defeat to their name.

It means Gibraltar are still awaiting their first point in European Championship qualifying, losing all 10 of their matches in the Euro 2016 qualification campaign.

4. Jeff Hendrick follows Clinton Morrison

Jeff Hendrick doesn’t score many goals for Ireland, in fact his strike on Saturday was just his second for the country in 46 appearances. But it was a significant one.

As well as proving vital to the win, it was the first goal scored by an Irishman under McCarthy since 2002. In McCarthy’s last game of his first reign, Ireland lost 2-1 to Switzerland but their goal was came from Swiss player Ludovic Magnin.

You have to go back one more game to find the last Irish player to score for the national side under McCarthy, when Clinton Morrison netted in a 4-2 defeat to Russia in September 2002 – 16 years and 197 days ago.

5. Ireland still have a way to go to please their fans

Despite Ireland getting off to a winning start in their quest to qualify for Euro 2020, the Boys in Green still have a lot of work to do, according to their fans.

While none of those watching in Gibraltar or back at home would have expected Ireland to run riot as Belgium did when they put nine past the minnows, there was some hope that a positive performance would be on display.

Instead, they were forced to endure a tough 90 minutes in which Ireland struggled against a team ranked 194th in the world, compared to their 34th.

And some weren’t overly happy with the way their players celebrated taking the lead just after half-time.