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Defeat hard to take but our ability isn’t in question, insists Ireland skipper John Egan

It’s Groundhog Day, with John Egan in the lead role.

competitive game away from home, in September, Ireland take a lead into the half-time break with a goal from the Cork-born defender, only to see their grip on the match slide out of their hands and lose 2-1. Faro in 2021, Glasgow in 2022, the same build-up and the same outcome, defeat for the men in orange shirts.

Just weeks away from turning 30, Egan was the third-oldest member of a fresh-faced Ireland side in Glasgow, and he maintains that Kenny’s team are heading in the right direction, just falling on the wrong side when tight calls are made.

“You could see the team the other night, we had a lot of young players, the future is very bright for Ireland, a lot of young players coming through, if they manage to keep improving at the rate they are going, they are going to have big careers,” says Egan.

“Coming away to Scotland is a tough game, we saw Ukraine the other night. We started the game fantastic, took the lead and quietened the crowd, first half really played well so I don’t think the ability is in question, the performances are not in question, it’s just the fine margins in football, they get a call with a penalty that wins them the game, it’s a tough one to take.

“We were really consistent up to the summer, we’d not lost a lot of games, we had two defeats in the Nations League but had two good performances after that; Saturday we lost the game to a tough decision but we performed well enough to get the draw.

“I don’t think we conceded too many chances, they had the crowd behind them, we started the second half quite well but they broke, punished us and scored. That can happen in football, it’s how you bounce back and I felt we regained control, had a couple of good chances but they get a call at the end from the referee which was a bit dubious but overall it’s a performance that deserved at least a draw,” Egan added.

It was Egan’s goal, on 17 minutes, which gave the Republic that lead, which they held until the fourth minute of the second half. The first phase of the match boded well for the away side as it was Kenny’s men who looked sharp while Scotland, in action against Ukraine in midweek, appeared to be sluggish.

Ireland could have been in front on 11 minutes, a superb ball from Jason Knight setting up Troy Parrott, whose effort did beat Craig Gordon in the Scotland goal but did not beat the offside rule so that was disallowed. Then came the goal that was allowed to stand. James McClean ignored the boos from the home fans as he swung in a corner, Jayson Molumby got a touch, Nathan Collins also got involved and Egan was free to score only the second goal of his 27-cap Ireland career..

Ireland remained in the lead and in control for the rest of the half, Scotland offering little bar a shot from John McGinn, though Lydnon Dykes could have done more damage on 42 minutes had he not been cut out by a strong block by Egan. 

The Scots, already missing key men Andy Robertson and Nathan Patterson, lost another full-back early on, Kieran Tierney struck once again by his own injury curse and he was replaced by Greg Taylor, who would go on to have a fine game.

If Scotland had started the first half with lead in their boots, they were freewheeling in the early stages of the second, and drew level four minutes after the restart, Matt Doherty’s lack of concentration punished as Ryan Christie and crossed for Cremonese’s Jack Hendry to score,  three goals in 19 caps impressive for a defender. 

The turning point came in the 56th minute, when Parrott was unable to make the most of the chance that came his way. A brave counter-attacking move saw Michael Obafemi leave defenders in his wake, cross for the unmarked Parrott and he was left with a one-on-one situation with ’keeper Craig Gordon. Parrott was just six months old when Gordon made his professional debut so the ’keeper clearly had the edge in terms of experience and he saved, to Parrott’s frustration.

From then on, things turned Scotland’s way. Their substitutions – Anthony Ralston and Ryan Fraser came on for the last half hour, Che Adams and Kenny McClean were also given time to make their mark – were made at the right time while Kenny seemed hesitant, about to bring on Chiedozie Ogbene only to change his mind and then bring him on, while Robbie Brady, Callum Robinson and Alan Browne made no impact.

Well, Browne did as his handball led to the penalty which Christie converted, and once that went in, Ireland had no way back, and it would have been a different game if Parrot’s chance had gone in. “If we create we want to put them away, he took his goal well that was offside,” says Egan of Parrott. “Sometimes ’keepers make big saves, he’s a top ’keeper and made a top save, on another day Troy sticks that in the back of the net and we get the lead again. They are the fine margins but it’s not just that, as a team we set high standards, we played well but we have to get the results to go with it, second half they just edged it but we did more than enough to get a draw.”

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