The more things change the more they stay the same.
Shane Duffy’s late header rescued a point for Ireland in Stephen Kenny’s first game in charge against Bulgaria as they began the UEFA Nations League campaign with a 1-1 draw.
Here are five definitive conclusions from Kenny’s opening game with the Boys in Green.
1) The result wasn’t great, but it’s important to remember to trust the process with Kenny
From the very start, it was clear that Stephen Kenny’s Ireland side would play differently to that of his predecessors. In the first half Ireland made 295 passes – 100 more than their opponents. A rarity for the Boys in Green, especially away from home.
They also managed an impressive 62.5% possession, and long balls were kept to a minimum, with passing from the back and building up play the clear objective.
There are kinks though that will have to be ironed out. Chance creation was an area of concern and at times the Irish midfield could have shown more, especially going forward.
There were also uncharacteristic errors from the back four, the goal being clear evidence of that, something that Kenny will want to swiftly amend.
Time though is key and for Irish fans, it’s about trusting the process under Stephen Kenny, even if the result wasn’t perfect.
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) September 3, 2020
2) Matt Doherty or Seamus Coleman will continue to be a debate
Kenny made the brave choice of Matt Doherty over Seamus Coleman in the right-back position, and on form it was probably the correct one.
Doherty, however, struggled as he has done on occasion in the green of Ireland, failing to replicate his form at club level over the past couple of seasons.
The new Spurs man has had a long campaign and, like many in the side, will need time to adjust to Kenny’s style of play. However, if Coleman is restored on Sunday against Finland, he can’t have too many complaints.
The Everton man arguably suits a flat back four more than Doherty and his leadership qualities are one of his greatest strengths. Kenny will again have a decision to make against Finland
3) Adam Idah performed well in his debut but needed more support
It was always going to be a difficult ask for Adam Idah, the 19-year-old making his first start for Ireland away to Bulgaria.
He was in a battle with the Bulgarian centre-half and held the ball up well, but was frustratingly forced to drop deep on occasion to see any of the ball.
Idah linked the play well for the most part but could have done with more support from a midfield runner or someone in the number 10 role to play behind him.
As far as baptisms of fire, they don’t come much tougher for Idah. But he performed admirably, especially in the first half. Expect him to have a big future under Kenny.
4) Shane Duffy has been outstanding for Ireland, but he didn’t look comfortable tonight
As mentioned above it will take time for Kenny’s ideas to be fully projected onto this Ireland side, but the early signs are that Shane Duffy may struggle.
The new Celtic man has been outstanding in green and will put his body on the line for his country, but in a possession-based side, he did not look comfortable.
His first touch in possession in the game was a heavy one, after he opted to take the ball out from the back. He fouled the Bulgaria player and struggled from there.
James McCarthy was keen for him to break in possession but he rarely did and on the occasion he tried it, it looked like a tough ask.
He was also caught out a couple of times in the first half by Bulgaria’s pace on the break, and he could’ve certainly done better for their goal.
Again though, it’s important to note that Kenny’s way will take time and Some will adjust quicker than others. He also remains a huge threat for Ireland going forward.
Duffy was a victim of Graham Potter’s change in philosophy at Brighton last season and if he doesn’t improve the same may occur with Ireland under Stephen Kenny
5) Aaron Connolly is still very raw, but he was Ireland’s brightest spark going forward
The Brighton man was handed a start by Stephen Kenny in a clear indication that the new Irish manager trusts the young forward.
Connolly made a couple of poor decisions – he arguably should have squared his chance in the first half – but his pace caused the Bulgarian’s problems.
The 20-year-old is still raw in a lot of his play but when he gets on the ball, there’s the sense that he can always make something happen.
He’s one of Ireland’s brightest talents and if Kenny continues showing faith in him, there’s no doubt the Brighton man will repay it.