Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Nervy Republic of Ireland in play-offs as Armenia suffer rough justice

Republic of Ireland's Richard Dunne celebrates scoring his side's second goal
Sean St. Ledger and Kevin Doyle congratulate Richard Dunne on scoring Republic of Ireland's second goal
Republic of Ireland's Keith Andrews and Stephen Hunt celebrate the win over Armenia

Republic of Ireland 2 Armenia 1: Giovanni Trapattoni's men progress to the play-offs, but this was a story of Armenian tragedy rather than Irish ascendency.

The Armenians will talk of Dublin just like grizzled veterans in these parts speak of injustices in Heysel and Sofia, tales of refereeing crimes committed against a small country that denied them a taste of a major tournament.

This game turned on the 26th minute sending off of Armenian keeper Roman Berezovsky, who raised his arms when he emerged from the area to block a Simon Cox shot.

Replays delivered a double blow for the visiting bench. Cox handled the ball first, and it was inconclusive if the ball had even touched the arm of the onrushing netminder.

To add insult to injury, the Armenians delivered a comical own goal to send the Republic on their way, with Trapattoni acknowledging afterwards that his opponents had emerged looking like a better side.

However, he stopped short of admitting that his charges were lucky, even if the Republic toiled for periods against ten men, and endured nervy moments when Kevin Doyle was sent off late in the second half. Trapattoni deals in the business of results and, this morning, the 72-year-old is closer to a new contract even if large question marks remain.

“They played well,” he said, of Armenia. “Maybe, I will have to review the game. But I can accept they played well, and had plenty of possession.

“But I don't remember the difficult moments for Shay Given. We were lucky in Russia, yes, but this evening I don't remember this.”

Perhaps the DVD will tell a different story. If the Republic had lost in this manner, they would be calling for a replay.

Trapattoni had called on his team to start in the same manner they did against Andorra. They tried, yet failed. They weren't playing Andorra.

A piercing Marcos Pizzelli through ball could have caused trouble only for the maturity of Shay Given who stayed on his feet and ushered Yura Movsisyan out of play; a younger keeper might have gone to ground and paid the penalty.

But this was an evening for Armenian punishment. The key moment followed, when Glenn Whelan, who started well, intercepted and punted the ball over the top in the same motion.

Cox judged the flight better than his three pursuers yet clearly brought the missile to ground using his arm. Rashly, Beresovsky raced from his line to block the striker's instinctive effort with his armpit, although several replays were required to establish any kind of clarity.

Referee Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez was harassed by a posse of green shirts, and looked to his linesman before dishing out a red card. Harsh on two counts.

Armenia brought on 20-year-old debutant Arsen Petrosyan and, manfully, continued to ping the ball around. Eventually, though, the weight of numbers told, but only with another large dollop of fortune.

Again, Duff's swiftness of thought was crucial with his first time cross outfoxing the opposition. Kevin Doyle tried to cheekily convert with a backheel and would have taken serious flak only for the covering Valeri Aleksanyan to inexplicably steer into his own goal under no pressure.

The Republic resumed with 15 minutes of genuine conviction.

McGeady, switched to the right, finally became effective, and a trademark piece of trickery created what appeared to be the insurance goal. The Spartak winger's cross found the Armenians in a slumber with sub keeper Petrosyan tamely allowing Dunne to bundle the ball across the line.

Irish nerves were again prevalent and the backtracking Doyle was guilty of a wild challenge that ruled him out of the first play-off game. Armenia continued to probe, and Trapattoni withdrew McGeady and the injured Whelan, bringing on Stephen Hunt and Keith Fahey respectively.

Just as Jonathan Walters was sent on for Cox, Doyle led with his elbow in an aerial challenge with Karlen Mkrtchyan and Gonzalez reached for a second yellow. Human parity restored. Ten long minutes remained.

Walters was immense, making a compelling case for inclusion in a deeply impressive ten minute cameo. Armenia required two goals to make tomorrow's draw in Krakow and, as injury time approached, the hope visibly drained from their bodies.

The home crowd recovered theirs, and rose in unison at the final whistle.

A repeat showing from the stands will be essential next month and so, too, will a better performance from the players.

Still, the dream lives on.

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