Matt Garbett spoilt James McClean’s farewell as New Zealand held the Republic of Ireland to a humiliating friendly draw.
McClean, who made his final appearance as a senior player for the country, and Stephen Kenny – out of contract at the end of the match and seemingly with little chance of an extension – might have expected a thrilling conclusion to the game.
A paltry 26,517 people watched NAC Breda’s midfielder Garbett equalize Adam Idah’s opening goal in the first half to earn a 1-1 tie on a evening when Ireland fell to 58th position in FIFA’s world ranking table and were often outplayed at times by a team some 45 positions below them.
The Football Association of Ireland board will review the Euro 2024 qualification campaign next week.
Ireland’s flat-back four made an uneasy start, as the All Whites dominated possession early on in the half of their opponent. But as McClean, and Celtic winger Mikey Johnson got the ball between his teeth, the Irish started to impress.
Michael Boxall, the New Zealand centre back who was defending the hosts from the corner that followed the first goal by McClean had to be at the perfect place and time.
Kenny’s men continued dominating possession but were unable to find space as the All Whites held their box with resoluteness until the 28th minutes, when finally they were pierced – albeit in a controversial manner.
Mark Sykes, a Sligo midfielder making his first appearance for the country, dispossessed Nando Pijaker, and he felt that he was caught. However, his calls for a penalty kick went unanswered, as Sykes found Idah who scored with no mistakes.
Seven minutes later, the visitors could have been in the game again when Chris Wood, who had diverted Marko’s Stamenic shot with his leg as it was speeding across the goal, to the relief and delight of Caoimhin Kelleher, diverted the ball wide.
Kelleher’s first call came three minutes later, when he snipped the curling effort of Sarspreet from his corner. He then saw that same man shoot into the sidenetting following a release by Liberato Caciace.
Mark Travers replaced the Liverpool goalkeeper at half-time. Within four minutes, Singh had picked up Garbett’s cross with his foot and seen the striker shoot a wasteful shot over the top.
Ireland responded by putting up a fight. But after 59 minutes, Singh stretched out the Irish defence again and Garbett, who was on the outside of the box when the ball dropped, beat Travers.
Singh’s 64th minute strike tested Travers and Kenny made two important changes. The first was to replace Idah by Evan Ferguson, and the second gave McClean standing ovations as he took over for Ryan Manning at the end of his international career.
Andy Moran made his senior debut, as Kenny sought inspiration. Travers, however, had to save defender Andrew Omobamidele, after Max Mata, the substitute, went for goal. Ryan Manning, the substitute, prevented Mata, at the last minute, from winning the match. The final whistle was a relief for the fans of the home team.