Ogbene to the rescue as Ireland beat Latvia
Republic of Ireland 3-2 Latvia
The Republic of Ireland, once again, threw away a two-goal lead and were made to work very hard to eventually defeat Latvia 3-2 in tonight’s international friendly at the Aviva Stadium.
Stephen Kenny’s side appeared to be in cruise control throughout the first half of this Euro 2024 qualifying warm-up after taking an early lead thanks to goals from Callum O’Dowda and Evan Ferguson, making his first start in a green shirt.
But just like they did against Armenia in September, Ireland allowed the visitors back into the game as Latvia scored twice with shots from outside the box to draw level at the break.
Ireland huffed and puffed throughout the opening stages of the second half before a triple substitution paid off as Chiedozie Ogbene scored with his first touch to snatch a victory for Ireland to at least build some confidence ahead of Monday’s vital game against France.
Five days out from the main event, this new-look Ireland team took to the field with the added excitement of seeing teenage prospect Ferguson lead the line, with Stoke’s Southampton loanee Smallbone making his debut in the green jersey.
And with just six minutes on the clock, Ireland took the lead against a Latvia side who had failed to show in the opening exchanges.
Patience was key to the breakthrough goal as the extended spell of possession football burst into life with Ferguson dropping deep to pick up the ball before sending Doherty out wide on the right.
The captain’s clever cutback rolled perfectly for Smallbone to clip it quickly into the box, where O’Dowda arrived right on cue to nod home from six yards out.
The perfect start for this emerging Ireland team and the young gun up front Ferguson couldn’t resist getting in on the action, having played as a link man for the opening ten minutes.
But once he found himself in space, he again dropped out from the penalty area, he let loose with his left but it careered high and wide.
Three minutes later, the former Bohemian player was celebrating his first goal for his country as Ireland took a 2-0 lead in what was a truly one-sided affair at that point.
Once again, it was the developing and exciting partnership of Smallbone and Doherty working together out on the right flank, before the skipper’s deep ball, which appeared to have drifted beyond the byline, was turned back by Michael Obafemi right into the path of Ferguson, who had the simplest of tasks to help the ball home.
Latvia’s first and only chance thus far arrived in the 20th minute, and a concern for Ireland, as the high line was breached with Vladislavs Gutkowskis through on goal with Omobamidele giving chase.
The striker looked to catch it on the half-volley as he arrived onto the ball, however, his sliced effort popped up into the air and wide.
Ireland kept creating with Browne, Ferguson and O’Dowda all threatening the Latvia goal, and while the net was bulging once again in the 33rd minute, it was Latvia who had reduced the deficit.
The shock of the Latvia goal was only softened by the sheer beauty of Roberts Uldrikis’s long-range strike, which had Caoimhin Kelleher scrambling across his goal to no avail.
A sloppy clipped pass inside from Doherty was intercepted by Vladislavs Sorokins, and when the striker was played the ball in from the left flank, he duly obliged with a rocket from 30 yards out that was still rising as it crashed into the net.
Ireland looked for a response and while it took a few minutes, it finally came thanks to a direct run through the midfield by Alan Browne. The Preston man then fed Obafemi early, and while the ball arrived perfectly in the striker’s path, the shot was well blocked and deflected out for a corner.
Latvia were growing in confidence as half-time approached and with just one minute added on, they found themselves standing over a free kick in the middle of the park.
Numbers were sent forward and while Collins cleared the deep punt into the box, the header was tame and failed to clear the penalty area.
O’Dowda and Dara O’Shea then conspired to get their wires crossed, and their combined clumsy clearance hopped just outside the box for the incoming Arturs Zjuzins whose zipped effort proved too much for Kelleher, who failed to get behind the ball as it ricocheted into the roof of the net.
Ireland came out with an obvious urgency after the break, however, despite the energetic running of Obafemi, they were unable to cause any problems, and it was goalscorer Uldrikis who had the best attempt of the first ten minutes, keeping Kelleher honest with a well drilled shot from outside the box.
Stephen Kenny rang the changes in the 63rd minute with a triple substitution as Mikey Johnson came on for his debut alongside John Egan and Ogbene.
And it took less than 60 seconds to take effect as Latvia were caught in possession in the middle of the park allowing Johnson to enjoy a few quick touches to begin his international career.
Moments later he was watching in agony, perhaps, as his snapshot cannoned off the post, however fellow substitute Ogbene raced in to slam the ball home.
The goal spurred Ireland into life, as soon after Ferguson was back on the front foot charging forward bringing the lively Johnson again into the play.
A couple of corners would again give Smallbone the chance to work his excellent variety of deliveries into the box, however, this time they were easily dealt with.
The substitutes kept coming as this friendly encounter entered the final stages but the goals dried up, with the only moment of magic coming from Johnson as he skipped past three players inside the box before smashing a fine goal-bound effort that was helped over the bar.
Deep into injury time, Latvia won a corner as they looked to shock the home support once again, however, it was cleared comfortably, allowing Ireland to move on to a tough Euro campaign on a winning note.
Republic of Ireland: Caoimhin Kelleher; Matt Doherty (Chiedozie Ogbene 63), Dara O’Shea, Andrew Omobamidele (John Egan 63), Nathan Collins, Callum O’Dowda (James McClean 77); Alan Browne, Jayson Molumby, Will Smallbone (Jeff Hendrick 82); Michael Obafemi (Mikey Johnson 63), Evan Ferguson (Troy Parrott 73)
Latvia: Pavels Steinbors; 2 Vladislavs Sorokins, 5 Antonijs Cernomordijs (capt), 11 Roberts Savalnieks, 21 Daniels Balodis (3 Marcis Oss HT), 6 Kristers Tobers, 17 Arturs Zjuzins (Aleksejs Saveljevs 71), 14 Andrejs Ciganiks 24 Renars Varslavans 71), 10 Janis Ikaunieks (16 Alvis Jaunzems 65), 9 Vladislavs Gutkowskis (19 Raimonds Krollis 56), 20 Roberts Uldrikis (Davis Ikaunieks 81)
Referee: Andrei Chivulete (ROU)