Ireland 3 Bulgaria 1.
Mick McCarthy’s side recorded a relatively comfortable victory over modest opposition in a friendly on Tuesday night. Alan Browne, Kevin Long and James Collins got the goals, as Jack Byrne and Josh Cullen impressed in midfield.
Here is how we rated the Ireland players:
Mark Travers – 5
The Bournemouth goalkeeper made his international debut against Bulgaria, just a few months after making his senior debut for his club against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. Travers, who turned 20 back in May, was rarely tested and could do little to save Bulgaria’s penalty.
Cyrus Christie – 5
The last time he was in an Ireland shirt, Christie was floundering in midfield, the unfortunate subject of a ludicrous Martin O’Neill experiment – if that’s the right word. Unsurprisingly, the Fulham full-back, earning his 23rd cap, looked more comfortable in his natural position against Bulgaria. However, his touch and delivery often let him down. He was also at fault for Ireland conceding a penalty, losing the ball in the penalty area before Egan made the foul.
John Egan – 6
The Sheffield United defender, making his fifth appearance for Ireland, captained the side in Seamus Coleman’s absence. Egan has been a key part in the Blades’ promising start to the Premier League season, playing every minute of the campaign so far. He was combative and authoritative at the back for Ireland – even if he was rarely troubled – but managed to give away a sloppy penalty.
Kevin Long – 6
Yet to play a minute of league football for Burnley this season, Long’s only game time ahead of this match came in an EFL Cup defeat to League One Sunderland. Largely untested, but strong in the air when the ball came his way. He put Ireland back in front with a header at the back-post.
Conor Hourihane – 4
McCarthy surprised many with his decision to play Hourihane at left-back. The Aston Villa midfielder has started all of Ireland’s games in Euro 2020 qualifying and has become a key player in the team. However, he had only previously played at left-back once in his career – for Plymouth Argyle against Rochdale in a League Two game back in April 2013.
The Ireland boss said he wasn’t worried about Hourihane’s lack of experience in the position, stating that the Corkman has the intelligence and footballing ability required to do a job at left-back.
But Tuesday night showed that he is just not a full-back. Firstly, Hourihane lacks the pace required to play in the position and this was evident throughout the first half. He couldn’t stretch play and get beyond the Bulgaria defence and, on one occasion, failed to keep the ball in play because he was too slow and couldn’t reach a pass.
None of this is his fault though, as Hourihane is a midfielder. McCarthy picked him in the position because he has a great left-foot. Considering how important full-backs are to modern football, it is staggering that an international manager thinks a good delivery is the only requirement to play in this position.
Josh Cullen – 7
The West Ham United midfielder, currently on loan at Charlton Athletic, was the other debutant in the starting line-up. He was Ireland’s brightest player during a dour opening half. Cullen was bright in possession and moved the ball quickly – unlike most of his teammates. He even made a last-ditch block to prevent a clear shot on Ireland’s goal. Named man of the match.
Alan Judge – 4
Making only his eighth appearance for Ireland, Judge failed to make much impact on the game and was withdrawn for Jack Byrne after an hour of the game.
Alan Browne – 6
Browne has had to wait for his chance to play for Ireland under McCarthy, who name-checked him as a player who could make a difference for the national team. The midfielder, who scored 12 goals last season for Preston North End, has had his playing time disrupted by injuries in recent months. Maybe that might explain his rustiness on Tuesday night. Browne often opted to pass it sideways and backwards rather than look for a penetrative pass. He did, however, open the scoring, tapping home from a yard into an empty net after continuing his run into the penalty box.
Ronan Curtis – 5
The Portsmouth forward, making his third appearance for Ireland, started on the left and did little to suggest he will trouble McCarthy for a starting spot. Curtis offered little for Ireland in the final third. His shot in the second-half led to Ireland opening the scoring, but otherwise, he was very much on the fringes of the match. Failed to link-up effectively with Hourihane at left-back. He looked more at home on the right side when O’Dowda went off.
Callum O’Dowda – 7
The Bristol City winger has only made one start in the Championship for his club this season, but O’Dowda has generally been one of Ireland’s better performers over the last year. He was the team’s brightest player against Bulgaria, pressing the opposition and dribbling past on several occasions. O’Dowda was centrally involved in Browne’s goal, helping Ireland win the ball back after drifting infield before striding past two players and passing out to Curtis in space on the wing. A talented player who will hopefully see more game time for Ireland in the October qualifiers against Georgia and Switzerland.
Scott Hogan – 4
Hogan has started for Ireland against Gibraltar and Bulgaria, two of the weakest sides the national team have played over the last 18-months, and made no impact in either game. He got very little service on Tuesday night, of course. However, he still offered the team little, often dropping deep for the ball rather than stretching play. Hogan also missed from a couple of yards out, only to see Browne tap his shot over the line. Largely anonymous.
Jack Byrne – 7
The Shamrock Rovers midfielder became Ireland’s 500th international when he came on for the final 30-minutes. Byrne was positive in possession and proactive, showing that any suggestion he isn’t cut out for football at this level because he plays in Ireland is nonsense. He rarely lost the ball, demanded it constantly and took up dangerous positions between the lines.
He set-up Ireland’s second goal with a pinpoint delivery from a corner and played in Stevens, who crossed for Collins, with a wonderful pass for Ireland’s third. The midfield improved when Byrne came on and this shouldn’t be his last involvement with the team.
James Collins – 7
Collins, on his first appearance for Ireland, was busy and helped hold the ball up when it came to him. He marked his debut with a well-taken goal and was a significant improvement on Hogan.
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) September 10, 2019
James McClean – 4
He ran around, lost the ball, hit a few crosses and failed to get the better of his direct opponent at right-back.
Enda Stevens – 6
The full-back wasn’t on the pitch long, but he managed to set-up Collins with a nice cross to the back-post after linking-up well with Byrne.
Kieran O’Hara – N/A
The goalkeeper wasn’t tested.
Jeff Hendrick – N/A
Not on long enough to rate.