James McClean’s Republic of Ireland farewell ruined by New Zealand friendly draw

By Sports Desk November 21, 2023

Matt Garbett ruined James McClean’s farewell party as the Republic of Ireland were held to an embarrassing friendly draw by New Zealand.

Both McClean – who was making his 103rd and final senior appearance for his country – and manager Stephen Kenny, out of contract on the final whistle and with seemingly little hope of an extension, might have hoped for a rousing conclusion at the Aviva Stadium.

But a paltry crowd of 26,517 saw NAC Breda midfielder Garbett cancel out Adam Idah’s first-half opener to claim a 1-1 draw on a night when Ireland, who have slipped to 58th place in FIFA’s world rankings table, were at times out-played by a side some 45 places below them.

A review of the Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, which ended fruitlessly for the Republic with Saturday’s 1-0 defeat by the Netherlands, will be considered by the Football Association of Ireland’s board next week, but evidence of the progress Kenny believes has been made was in painfully short supply once again.

Ireland, starting with a flat back four, made an uncertain start as the All Whites enjoyed early possession in their opponent’s half, but as McClean and Celtic winger Mikey Johnston got the bit between his teeth down the left, they started to make an impression.

New Zealand defender Michael Boxall had to be in the right place at the right time to deny first McClean and then – from the resulting corner – central defender Shane Duffy, with the home side pinning the visitors back.

Kenny’s men continued to dominate possession but found space at a premium as the All Whites defended their box resolutely until the 28th minute when they were finally pierced, if with an element of controversy.

Sligo defender Nando Pijnaker felt he had been caught by Mark Sykes – making a first start for his country – as he dispossessed him, but his appeals for a free-kick went unanswered as the midfielder found striker Idah, who made no mistake.

The visitors might have been back in it seven minutes later when, after the Irish defence had struggled to deal with Tim Payne’s cross, skipper Chris Wood diverted Marko Stamenic’s shot wide with his knee as it sped across goal to the relief of goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher.

Kelleher was called upon for the first time three minutes later when he clawed the excellent Sarspreet Singh’s curling attempt out of his top corner and he saw the same man fire into the side-netting after being released by Liberato Cacace in a strong finish to the first half by Darren Bazeley’s men.

The Liverpool goalkeeper departed at the break to be replaced by Mark Travers and the newcomer suffered a scare within four minutes when Singh picked out Garbett with a cross and saw the striker lift a shot wastefully over the top.

 

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Jayson Molumby fired just wide after being set up by Johnston and Duffy headed a McClean corner straight at goalkeeper Max Crocombe with Ireland responding, but they were rocked with 59 minutes gone when Singh again stretched the home defence and when the ball fell to Garbett on the edge of the box, he smashed it past the helpless Travers to level.

Singh tested Travers with a 64th-minute strike and Kenny chose that moment to make two significant changes, the first to replace Idah with Evan Ferguson and the second to hand McClean a standing ovation as he made way for Ryan Manning as his international career drew to a close.

Andy Moran was handed a senior debut as Kenny looked for inspiration, but Travers had to rescue defender Andrew Omobamidele after substitute Max Mata went for goal and substitute Ryan Manning prevented Mata from winning it at the death, while the final whistle came as a merciful release for the home fans.

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