Belfast Telegraph

Trio hit first goals for the Republic after McCarthy mixes it up

Republic of Ireland 3-1 Bulgaria

Big moment: Alan Browne after opening the scoring
Big moment: Alan Browne after opening the scoring
Adrian Rutherford

By Adrian Rutherford

It was another late, late show from the Republic of Ireland as they hit back to beat Bulgaria.

Kevin Long and James Collins scored in the final seven minutes to secure victory in a largely forgettable friendly.

Mick McCarthy's side are making a habit of leaving it late - they needed an 85th-minute equaliser five days earlier to draw against Switzerland.

All the action came in the second period, with three Irish players scoring their first international goals.

Alan Browne gave them the lead, starting and finishing a superb move, and Bulgaria levelled from the penalty spot through substitute Ivelin Popov.

Just as it seemed it would be a night to forget, then came those two late Irish goals.

Long headed in before Collins sealed it three minutes from the end.

That late drama aside, for the most part this was every bit as dull as an international friendly against Bulgaria sounds.

It wasn't helped by the sparse attendance, nor the raft of changes from both managers.

Of the team that drew against the Swiss on Thursday, only Conor Hourihane kept his place in the Republic's starting XI.

The Aston Villa midfielder was shunted to left-back, an experimental move by McCarthy with Enda Stevens suspended for next month's game in Georgia.

Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Travers and on-loan Charlton midfielder Josh Cullen were handed debuts.

Cullen was named man of the match and looks a real prospect.

Bulgaria made nine changes from the side that lost 4-0 to England, but followed a similar game plan and opted to sit back.

They did create the first chance when Kristian Dimitrov met a corner from namesake Nikolay, but he headed over.

For the Republic, Browne flicked a cross from Callum O'Dowda over, while Alan Judge saw a deflected effort saved.

Ronan Curtis tried to lift the mood, but his 20-yard effort was always bending wide.

To the relief of all, the deadlock was broken 11 minutes into the second half.

It was a well-worked move, started and finished by Browne.

He won possession in midfield, Judge and then O'Dowda carried the ball forward and played it left to Curtis.

Curtis looked to shift inside and drive at goal, with Ivanov blocking at his near post. Browne had continued his run, and when Hogan squared the rebound, he was there to side-foot home.

But Bulgaria were level 10 minutes later when a lapse from Cyrus Christie saw the ball played to Bozhidar Kraev, who was tripped by Egan.

Popov ignored the boos to slam home the resulting penalty.

The Republic, however, won it with two quick-fire goals in the final seven minutes.

First Long scored his first international goal, the Burnley defender heading in from six yards after a corner from Byrne.

And they added a third in the 86th minute. Byrne and Stevens, another sub, combined well down the left with the latter crossing for Collins, who came sliding in to divert home.

REP OF IRELAND: Travers (O'Hara, 75), Christie, Egan, Long, Hourihane (McClean, 69), Browne, Judge (Byrne, 59), Cullen, O'Dowda (Stevens, 76), Hogan (Collins, 60), Curtis (Hendrick, 83)

Subs not used: Randolph, Coleman, Duffy, Keogh, Whelan

BULGARIA: Ivanov, Goranov, Nedyalkov (Bozhikov, 59), K Dimitrov (Panayotov, 80), Pashov, Slavchev, Mladenov (Despodov, 68), Milanov (Popov, 46), Malinov (Terziev, 81), N Dimitrov (Wanderson, 59), Kraev

Subs not used: Lukov, Iliev, Bodurov, Marcelinho, Sarmov, Ivanov

Referee: Tobias Welz (Germany)

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