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Wednesday 16 October 2019

It's ker-Pauw for Ireland

Winning start for new boss despite first-half scare

Irish captain Katie McCabe celebrates with her team-mates after the winning goal went in
Irish captain Katie McCabe celebrates with her team-mates after the winning goal went in

This was a game Ireland could not afford to lose even if for a few scary moments they flirted with calamity.

Two goals up with half-time looming, a brace of sloppy concessions meant they had to start all over again after the break.

This they did, much more resolutely, to stay on track for a play-off spot behind runaway Group I leaders Germany.

"We showed good spirit and scored a goal we've been trying to work on all week," said captain Katie McCabe.

Megan Campbell, Keeva Keenan, Megan Connolly and Heather Payne were the four new players drafted in for Dutch native Vera Pauw's managerial debut and all made a distinct impression.

Denise O'Sullivan was again the stand-out figure, a whirling dervish of energy in the middle of the park, probing and pressing without cease.

The pre-match trumpeting of a sell-out was an own goal for organisers; there may have been 8,000 tickets available but not all bothered to use them or, indeed, pass them on.

Still, on a pleasant evening, drafting in 5,328 (an official record for a women's game) was a more than healthy return on the renewed commitment to the female sport.

Ireland started confidently, albeit Campbell's impressive throw-ins marked the more incisive of the early attacks, Arsenal defender Louise Quinn heading wide from one such hefty hurl from the right touchline.

Quinn then turned provider after another throw was cleared, punting a through ball into clear space to locate the well-timed run of Rianna Jarrett; sadly, her shot lacked timing, ballooning high and wide of the target.

Midway through the half, Quinn almost squeezed home after another long throw. If Ireland seemed limited, what they produced midway through the half was an example of Dutch expressionism at its finest.

Pauw desires purposeful passing and from the moment goalie Marie Hourihan dealt with a back-pass, her team delivered precisely that.

Three passes later, the ball was nestling in the net; from Diane Caldwell to Payne's neat ball to the always classy O'Sullivan, her raking right-to-left ball to Jarrett, her jink beyond Natiya Pantsulaya, then the precise cut-back to a gleeful Katie McCabe.

Three minutes later, the lead was doubled from an orthodox set-piece, Ireland's first corner; this time McCabe providing a devilishly curling delivery from the right; Jarrett met the ball merely yards out from goal, unmarked, to score her first international goal.

Yet by half-time they were pondering where everything had gone wrong as they inexplicably tossed away their advantage. Disappointingly, both were from dead balls and egregious errors.

In the 34th minute, Payne pushed Tamila Khimich in the back; Olha Basanska's delivery from the right should not have caused Hourihan much angst but it did.

She fumbled but Lyubov Shmatko made no mistake as she bundled the ball home.

Worse was to follow. After Ireland failed to clear a corner from one side, Khimich crossed from the left and, as Campbell attempted to clear a flick-on, she failed to connect properly. Olha Odiychuk did not and a half Ireland had dominated ended with them trooping off disconsolately.

They re-emerged re-focused. Quinn producing a save with a header from Connolly's free within a minute.

And when they regained the lead in the 50th minute, the goal combined several first-half themes.

First, a long throw from a familiar source, then Jarrett's elusive running, this time finding O'Sullivan, whose shot caromed off two defenders before eventually Pantsulaya was credited with the own goal.

Having regained their lead, Ireland now needed to retain their composure. Mostly, they did.

Republic of Ireland: M Hourihan; K Keenan, D Caldwell, L Quinn, M Campbell; M Connolly, N Fahey, D O'Sullivan; H Payne (L Kiernan 71), R Jarrett, K McCabe (capt).

Ukraine: K Samson; T Khimich, N Pantsulaya, D Apanaschenko (capt), L Shmatko, O Basanka; V Andrukhiv, I Andrushchak (N Kunina 86), T Kitayeva,O Ovdiychuk; Y Kalinina (T Romanenko 67).

Ref: D Grundbacher (Switzerland).

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