Belfast Telegraph

Towering Duffy keeps a cool head as Republic make point

Denmark 1 Republic of Ire 1

Get in: Shane Duffy celebrates his equaliser against Denmark
Get in: Shane Duffy celebrates his equaliser against Denmark

By Daniel McDonnell

This was a better kind of draw for the Republic of Ireland, a smash and grab raid that gave Denmark the punch in the gut that the away side was desperate to deliver.

Shane Duffy's towering header, a moment in keeping with the quality of his performance, salvaged a point that was a reward for perseverance.

They looked dead and buried when a glancing header from Denmark sub Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg sent the Parken Stadium wild with 15 minutes remaining.

It was a breakthrough effort that the natives deserved on the balance of play.

They had picked away at the Irish across the piece, finding space with clever runs that will still present boss Mick McCarthy with food for thought in the aftermath.

But the Republic responded with a goal that altered the tone of the post-mortem. McCarthy placed his faith in Alan Judge, bringing the Ipswich Town playmaker into the fray when the match was deadlocked.

The 30-year-old has taken a long and winding road to this point, and his bravery won the Republic the free-kick that he swung into the area for the giant figure of Duffy.

Judge didn't even get time to enjoy the moment, with an awkward fall at full-time meaning he was the subject of medical treatment as the Irish squad acclaimed the boisterous away end.

He's made his mark on this campaign now whatever happens from here, contributing to the result that keeps the good vibes around the McCarthy era going.

Monday's visit of Gibraltar should function as a routine send-off into the summer break.

The weighting of the Republic's fixture list was favourable in terms of getting points on the board in the first half of the campaign, but this was the one match with the potential to halt the momentum.

By negotiating it unscathed, McCarthy's men now have the platform to enter a hectic autumn with confidence.

Home and away matches with Switzerland, sandwiched by a date in Tbilisi, are on the agenda before the big finale against the Danes in Dublin in November.

The analysis of this match should form the basis of the homework.

The Republic's primary mission was to shackle Christian Eriksen, yet this game showed that the other Danish attacking players have the smarts to capitalise on the persistent monitoring of his status.

Wide men Martin Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen made a series of clever runs into the space between the Irish defence and midfield to pick up the ball.

Centre-halves Richard Keogh and Duffy had tried to push the away rearguard up in the early minutes to squeeze the opposition, but they fell deeper as the half progressed.

On the occasions where Glenn Whelan was engaged with Eriksen, it left the visitors vulnerable to accurate passes forward and Denmark had success in this regard.

With Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick on the retreat, and the full-backs torn, both Poulsen and Braithwaite kept finding shooting positions with the latter particularly dangerous.

Eriksen was influential too of course, benefiting from a calm head in some manic passages where Irish enthusiasm posed problems.

He overhit an early through ball after carnage presented the opportunity, and there were parallels when Whelan and James McClean clattered into Poulsen and the advantage allowed Eriksen to advance deep into Irish territory.

His path to goal was denied by a superb Duffy challenge, a reach-around that left no margin for error.

The Republic found themselves increasingly on the defensive as the interval approached, a contrast from a bright start when full-backs Seamus Coleman and Enda Stevens both got into positions to overlap and send in crosses.

David McGoldrick was involved in some good moments too, but the clearest opportunity was a dead ball scenario with Hourihane's superb delivery inviting an attempt from Duffy who was off balance and unable to bundle the ball across the line.

That was encouraging for the away side, with the animated McCarthy bellowing instructions from the sideline, but trouble was invited with rash moments; clumsy challenges from Hourihane and Stevens gave the natives set-piece opportunities and a rushed clearance from McClean was almost costly with last-ditch defending required to divert an Eriksen cross to safety.

The whistle came as a relief. Respite was temporary, however, with Denmark cutting the Irish open from the restart with Poulsen slipping between Stevens and Keogh before Randolph stood tall.

Granted, the response was an opening at the other end with McClean firing straight at Kasper Schmeichel following a move that he started with Robbie Brady's crisp pass providing the assist. Brady then sent in a cross that was flicked over by McGoldrick, with McCarthy's reaction suggesting he was optimistic when the ball was delivered.

Denmark were making the better chances though, with Poulsen still making threatening runs, and good fortune was maintaining parity.

McCarthy looked to mix things up by withdrawing the frustrated Brady, who had just held a lengthy discussion with Coleman about positioning, and sending in Judge.

The surprise introduction took a central role close to McGoldrick with Hendrick shifting to the right side and Hourihane sitting deeper next to Whelan.

Yet it was a Danish newcomer that made the breakthrough, the goal a reflection of their superiority at this juncture.

After moving the ball from side to side, Hendrick was unable to stop Jens Stryger Larsen from sending in a dangerous cross that was met by the head of the inrushing Hojbjerg with his advance and execution perfectly timed.

Age Hareide celebrated like a relieved man, but there was more legs in this story. McCarthy sprung Scott Hogan for Hourihane and rejigged in an attempt to make this a happier Danish excursion.

Martin O'Neill's fate was sealed on these shores last November. This trip might prove to be a pivotal moment in the tenure of his successor.

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