Late, late show seals Bulgaria win for Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland 3 Bulgaria 1
It was another late, late show from the Republic 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.
After a scoreless first half, 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.
Bulgaria levelled from the penalty spot through sub Ivelin Popov.
But, just as it seemed it would be a night to forget, 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, with the crowd struggling to make themselves heard among a sea of empty seats.
Nor did the raft of changes from both managers.
Of the team that drew against the Swiss on Thursday night, 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 Mick 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, showing composure in midfield and using the ball well.
Bulgaria made nine changes from the side that lost 4-0 against England, but followed a similar game plan, opting to sit back.
They did create the first chance when Kristian Dimitrov met a corner from namesake Nikolay, but headed over.
For Ireland Browne flicked a cross from Callum O’Dowda over, while Alan Judge saw a deflected effort saved.
Ronan Curtis tried to lift the mood, cutting inside from the left late in the first half but his 20-yard effort was always bending wide.
The Republic’s best chance came from their best move of the half just before the break.
Curtis collected a pass from Hourihane and, spotting the run of Scott Hogan, tried to feed it across to the striker.
Hogan missed it but the ball ran through, with goalkeeper Hristo Ivanov saving well.
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 back possession in midfield, with Judge and then O’Dowda carrying the ball forward, before playing it left to Curtis.
Again Curtis looked to shift inside and drive at goal, with Ivanov blocking at his near post.
All the time Browne had continued his run, and when Hogan squared the rebound, he was there to side-foot home.
As the Irish pressed, sub Jack Byrne’s effort from distance flashed narrowly wide.
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, levelling the game.
It was always hard to escape the friendly feel - summed up by a switch of goalkeeper by McCarthy, one of a series of subs which disrupted the second half.
The Republic, however, won it with two quickfire goals in the final seven minutes.
First Long scored his first international goal, with 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 Stevens 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)
Belfast Telegraph Digital