Republic of Ireland 3-1 Bulgaria: Alan Browne, Kevin Long and James Collins strike from close range to seal victory in friendly despite Mick McCarthy making 10 changes
For a country who have long since struggled for goalscorers, to unearth three news ones made this friendly entirely worthwhile for Mick McCarthy’s Republic of Ireland.
A goalless and soulless first half had been a fantastic advert for the Nations League, the competition introduced to do away with international friendlies such as this.
But the second period was an uplifting affair and will cheer McCarthy ahead of next month’s crunch Euro 2020 qualifiers away to Georgia and Switzerland.
Alan Browne put the Republic of Ireland ahead in the 56th minute on Tuesday night
Rep of Ireland: Travers (O’Hara 75), Christie,Egan, Kevin Long, Hourihane (McClean 68), Browne, Judge (Byrne 59),Cullen, O’Dowda (Stevens 76), Hogan (James Collins 60), Curtis (Hendrick 83).
Subs Not Used: Coleman, Duffy, Keogh, Whelan, Randolph.
Booked: James Collins.
Goals: Browne 56, Kevin Long 83, James Collins 86.
Bulgaria: Hristo Ivanov, Goranov, Nedyalkov (Bozhikov 59), Kristian Dimitrov (Panayotov 80), Pashov,Slavchev, Daniel Mladenov (Despodov 68), Milanov (Ivelin Popov 46), Malinov (Terziev 80),Nikolay Dimitrov (Wanderson 59),Kraev.
Subs Not Used: Lukov, Bodurov, Marcelinho, Sarmov,Galin Ivanov, Iliev.
Goals: Ivelin Popov 67 pen.
Ref: Tobias Welz (Germany).
For this was evidence that perhaps there is talent in reserve. Alan Browne, Kevin Long and debutant James Collins were the scorers, while another new boy, West Ham midfielder Josh Cullen – currently on loan at Charlton – was man of the match.
However, 10 changes for Ireland from the side which drew with Switzerland last week and nine for Bulgaria after their weekend defeat to England hardly set pulses racing, and the first half was, unsurprisingly, a lifeless affair.
Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Travers was making his debut and the 20-year-old could not have asked for a more gentle introduction, his sole save of the opening period being a simple collect from Georgi Pashov’s header.
Pashov had escaped unmarked from a corner and team-mate Nikolay Dimitrov did similar moments later only to nod over the crossbar.
McCarthy could be heard urging his side to ‘pass forward’, and when they did it produced a couple of efforts at goal.
Preston midfielder Browne volleyed wide from outside of the area before a Ronan Curtis cross – narrowly missed by the outstretched boot of Scott Hogan – was paddled away by keeper Hristo Ivanov, a 37-year-old debutant.
Bulgaria’s Ivelin Popov scores the equaliser from the penalty spot in the 67th minute
But Ireland did find a breakthrough on 56 minutes when Hogan followed up after Curtis’ low blast had been saved and he squared for Browne to turn in from two yards.
Bulgaria levelled from the penalty spot through Ivelin Popov after skipper John Egan had tripped Bozhidar Kraev on 67 minutes.
Ireland, though, pushed for a late winner and found two goals in the final seven minutes. First, Burnley defender Long rose highest to head home from Jack Byrne’s corner.
And Byrne, the debutant from Shamrock Rovers, was again involved when his pass was turned across goal by Enda Stevens and Luton frontman Collins steered into the bottom corner.