Serbia 3-2 Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland started their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign with a defeat away to Serbia. Stephen Kenny’s side went into the game in Belgrade searching for their first goal since last September and their first win since November 2019, when they beat New Zealand in a friendly. After a performance with plenty of positives, it was ultimately a disappointing night for the national team. Here is how we rated the Ireland players.
Ireland player ratings.
Mark Travers – 5
The Bournemouth goalkeeper started the game for Kenny’s team in the absence of Darren Randolph and Caoimhin Kelleher.
Travers, earning his third cap for Ireland, was rarely tested in the first-half but could do little to stop Dušan Vlahović’s goal before half-time.
The 21-year-old, who spent the first half of the season on loan with Swindon Town in League One, acquitted himself well until he was caught out for Serbia’s second goal.
Travers was off his line and Aleksandar Mitrovic scored with a deft chip. The young goalkeeper was given a brutal introduction to this level of professional football.
And just like that Serbia are level.
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 24, 2021
Seamus Coleman – 7
Coleman made his first appearance for the national team since October 2019, when he was sent off during Ireland’s defeat away to Switzerland.
The Ireland captain, earning his 57th cap, returned to the starting XI on the right-side of a back-three and performed admirably in an unfamiliar position.
Coleman was neat in possession and was on hand to make his fair share of clearances and blocks as Serbia controlled possession and probed for an opening.
Like the rest of Ireland’s defence, he was caught out at least two of Serbia’s goals.
Dara O’Shea – 6
The West Brom defender got the nod ahead of Shane Duffy based on club form. O’Shea has been solid in a struggling Baggies team in the Premier League, while Duffy has experienced a nightmare season with Celtic.
The 22-year-old had some promising moments early in the first-half, with some very good passes out from the back through the lines that got Ireland higher up the pitch.
O’Shea also read the game well, making several interceptions and blocks. However, he faded as the game went on and struggled to cope with Serbia’s physical forwards. Like Clark, he was beaten in the air for the third goal.
Ciaran Clark – 5
The Newcastle defender, earning his 35th cap, came into the team after John Egan was ruled out through injury.
Clark looked relatively comfortable playing in the back three and defended well for most of the match against the dangerous Serbs.
Mitrovic easily beat him in the air for Serbia’s third goal, however.
Enda Stevens – 5
Stevens worked hard and helped Ireland get up the pitch, offering width to the team’s play and calmness in possession. But it was a quiet night for the Sheffield United defender.
Josh Cullen – 7
Cullen is the type of deep-lying controlling midfielder Kenny will need to implement his possession-based game. The Anderlecht midfielder has impressed for Vincent Kompany’s side this season and was an assured presence for Kenny’s team against Serbia.
Cullen worked extremely hard, and helped initiate Ireland’s press while also protecting the back three. Cullen was also calm and confident in possession, looking to play forward when possible.
He faded as the match went on and became looser with his passes, but should retain his place in midfield for Ireland’s next match on Saturday against Luxembourg.
Jayson Molumby – 6
Molumby was Kenny’s captain at Ireland Under-21 level and has produced some promising displays at senior level in his five appearances so far.
The Brighton midfielder, currently on loan with Preston North End in the Championship, was tenacious and aggressive alongside Cullen in midfield, repeatedly closing down space and cutting off passing lanes.
Molumby grew into the game more in the second half and started to show more with the ball before he was withdrawn for Jeff Hendrick, who failed to match Molumby’s energy.
Matt Doherty – 6
The Spurs full-back is another Ireland player who came into the international break in the midst of a difficult campaign at club level.
Doherty has struggled for form with Tottenham, with Jose Mourinho opting not to use him as a wing-back where he played his best football for Wolves.
Doherty was in his natural Wednesday night, playing in front of Coleman as a wing-back. And it showed.
The Dubliner got into dangerous positions and delivered some dangerous crosses into the penalty area. He also worked hard all night, tirelessly covering the entirety of the right-wing.
Alan Browne – 8
Browne ended Ireland’s long goal drought with a deft header in the first half. The Preston North End midfielder played as the most advanced of Ireland’s midfielders and did very well for the goal.
Browne collected the ball 30 yards from goal and sprayed it out left with the outside of his boot to Stevens, who found Robinson.
The West Brom forward stood up the Serbia defender and created enough space for a cross, finding Browne at the back post after the midfielder continued his run into the box.
The Cork-native found the net with a wonderful header directed into the bottom corner.
Callum Robinson – 7
Robinson hasn’t kicked a ball at club level since the start of February after falling out of favour at West Brom under Sam Allardyce. But Robinson got his chance for Ireland in a central position on Wednesday night, partnering Connolly upfront.
He played a key role in the opening goal, when he created space in the Serbia box and guided an excellent, floated cross to the back post for Browne to head home.
Robinson was a danger when he came into possession and effective with the ball, the forward also started Ireland’s press and caused Serbia problems with his trickery and direct play in the first half. His best performance yet for the Ireland team.
Aaron Connolly – 5
The Brighton forward has only scored twice in the Premier League this season and has only returned to fitness following a spell on the sidelines. So, it wasn’t a surprise to see that Connolly was short on form and confidence.
He only had eight touches in the first half and lost the ball with some of those. Connolly’s decision-making and work-rate were questionable. Ireland needed a forward to either make the ball stick and hold it up to relieve pressure or press the opposition into losing it high up the pitch. Unfortunately for Connolly, he didn’t really achieve either. He also struggled with the physicality of the Serb defenders.
He will, however, have plenty of more opportunities to improve on this showing. On another night, he may have also earned his team a penalty, after there was a big shout for a foul on him in the second half.
Ireland player ratings: Substitutes.
Jeff Hendrick – 4
Hendrick played 30 minutes and brought very little to proceedings.
He failed to match Molumby’s effort and energy in midfield and drifted further and further from the match as it slipped away from Ireland.
Shane Long – 5
Quiet, but got an assist for Ireland’s second goal.
Robbie Brady – 5
Helped set up Ireland’s second goal but his set-piece deliveries weren’t of the standard one would expect from him.
James Collins – 6
Scored his second international goal and should have replaced Connolly sooner.
James Collins pulls one back for Ireland
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) March 24, 2021
James McClean – N/A
Not on long enough, or involved enough, to rate.
Manager – 6
Kenny got his starting team and tactics right, with Ireland putting in their best performance for a long time and certainly their best display in his reign, particularly for the opening hour, before badly fading.
The Ireland manager, however, had five substitutes available and arguably could have used them better. Connolly remained on the pitch for too long and Hendrick offered very little when he came on.
Kenny made three substitutions after Serbia scored their third goal, but arguably should have acted sooner.