Euro Qualifier Report: Republic of Ireland 3 - 0 Gibraltar

Mikey Johnston of Republic of Ireland turns away to celebrate after he opened the scoring

Mikey Johnston of Republic of Ireland turns away to celebrate after he opened the scoring Credit: Conor Ryan (ETPhotos)

Goals from Mikey Johnston, Evan Ferguson, and Adam Idah in the second half made the difference as Ireland secured their first three points of Euro Qualification.

After a disappointing loss to Greece, Stephen Kenny’s Republic of Ireland side welcomed minnows Gibraltar to the Aviva Stadium on a warm June evening.

Much of the pre-match talk was surrounding the Dubliner's position once more as Irish manager. The defeat in Athens makes the journey to Germany in 2024 very much difficult, especially with a playoff not guaranteed due to mixed results in the Nations League.

The under-pressure boss made five changes from last Friday. Jason Knight, Jamie McGrath, Michael Obafemi, Dara O’Shea, and James McClean all returned to the starting 11, with the latter captaining his country on his 100th cap. A fantastic achievement for a fantastic servant to his country over the past 11 years.

On his final appearance for RTÉ, Liam Brady spoke of his happiness at Obafemi's inclusion in the Irish line-up once again, describing him as ‘bubbly’ and expressing belief in his potential to develop a potent attack with Evan Ferguson.

The Gibraltarians, who arrived in Dublin on the back of a 3-0 loss to World Cup Finalists France, had Dundalk centre back Louis Annesley in their line-up. The Lilywhites defender is back to full fitness after recovering from sepsis.

The Boys in Green started brightly and should have scored within 30 seconds after good work down the Irish right; Knight squared the ball to McGrath in the box, but the Dundee United midfielder put his effort right at Dayle Coleing in the Gibraltar goal.

And that set out the gameplan for the first half, working the ball out to the wings to McClean and Knight and getting crosses into the box. Knight, in particular, was causing problems for a compact away side, putting in dangerous crosses but none of them resulted in a goal.

One of these dangerous crosses came when Ireland broke on the counter-attack after a Gibraltar free kick. Knight again used his pace to beat his man and looked to put the ball on a plate for Obafemi, but the Burnley striker missed the ball and the chance went begging.

The man of the moment, Ferguson, was struggling to get into the game against a well-drilled Gibraltar defence and had to come out deep to get on the ball. He had one speculative effort from a distance and, minutes later, had Ireland’s best chance of the half. A McClean cross looked to have been inch perfect for the Brighton man, but his glancing header went wide.

There were slight jeers as the half-time whistle went, signalling the Irish fans were not happy with what they had witnessed. Kenny needed a response from his players in the second half after a lacklustre first. A tactical change was made at the interval with Nathan Collins making way for Mikey Johnston. A clear signal that the three at the back was not working.

The switch worked as Ireland made the breakthrough. McGrath won a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. Smallbone’s free kick hit the wall but luckily rebounded to substitute Johnston, who couldn't miss to make it 1-0. His first for his adopted country. A sigh of relief.

Moments later, it was two. After a spell of Irish possession, Johnston drifted into the middle, picked up the ball, and played it to McClean who was in acres of space on the left. The Derry man, once again, found Ferguson who did not miss the second time of asking to double Ireland’s lead.

The introduction of Mikey Johnston provided the spark the Irish team badly needed, as he jinked and weaved to offer some creativity which was missing in the first half performance.

Much like the first half, Ireland had plenty of crosses, plenty of corners and free kicks, but the visitors, to their credit, were well capable of dealing with the majority of balls that landed in their penalty area.

Ireland should have scored more. First from centurion McClean, who looked destined to score but Dundalk man Annesley blocked the shot which prevented a dream goal. Minutes later, a Cullen cross found the head of Ferguson once more, but yet again Coleing dealt with the effort.

In the final stages, Ireland finally made it 3-0. Substitute Adam Idah got on the end of another McClean ball to head home his first international goal. Hopefully, this will help the Cork man kick on, who has struggled in previous caps.

Three goals, three points for Ireland and more importantly for Stephen Kenny, as the scrutiny has again increased on the former Dundalk manager.

Republic of Ireland: Gavin Bazunu; John Egan, Jason Knight (Jeff Hendrick 84), James McClean, Dara O'Shea; Joshua Cullen, Jamie McGrath, Will Smallbone (Alan Browne 72); Nathan Collins (Michael Johnston 46), Evan Ferguson (Adam Idah 84), Michael Obafemi (Troy Parrott 58).
Subs not used: Caoimhin Kelleher, Mark Travers, Darragh Lenihan, Liam Scales, Jayson Molumby, Mark Sykes, Callum O'Dowda. 
Booked: None. 
Sent off: None. 

Gibraltar: Dayle Coleing; Louie Annesley, Roy Chipolina (Aymen Mouelhi 43), Bernardo Lopes, Jayce Macarenhas-Olivero, Jack (John) Sergeant (Scott Wiseman 46); Ethan Britto (Scott Ballantine 73), Niels Hartman, Nicholas Pozo (Ethan Jolley 68), Kian Ronan; Ayoub El Hmidi.
Subs not used: Bradley Banda, Jaylan Hankins, Joseph Chipolina, Mohamed Badr, James Coombes, Dylan Peacock, Tjay De Barr, Anthony Hernandez. 
Booked: Jack (John) Sergeant (36), Ethan Jolley (70). 
Sent off: None. 

Referee: Marian Alexandru Barbu (Romania)
Attendance: 42,156 Player of the Match: Jason Knight (Ireland)