Republic of Ireland went down to a 1-0 defeat to Finland in Helsinki in their fourth UEFA Nations League group game.
A second-half strike by Fredrik Jenson was the difference between the two teams in a game where Stephen Kenny’s men were denied numerous times by the home side’s goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.
The Ireland manager made four changes to the starting XI that drew with Wales on Sunday afternoon with West Bromwich Albion’s Dara O’Shea making his senior Ireland debut. Sean Maguire, Daryl Horgan and the returning Aaron Connolly also started the game.
The first clear chance of the match fell for Ireland in the 12th minute. Maguire got down the left and found Horgan in the centre of the box, he laid it off to Jeff Hendrick whose goal-bound effort was blocked.
Connolly, who was a continued threat throughout the game, looked to test Hradecky’s goal with two long-range efforts but neither troubled the Finland stopper.
The home side had two big chances just before half-time. Teemu Pukki flashed an effort across Darren Randolph’s goal on 36 minutes then the Norwich City forward went close again, this time his effort hitting the side netting.
Ireland started the second half the brighter team. Jayson Molumby managed to break down the right and he crossed for Horgan however the Wycombe Wanderers winger couldn’t get a flick to turn it goalwards. Minutes later Ireland counter attacked through Connolly who drove at the Finnish backline and fired off an effort that was well stopped by Hradecky.
Still Ireland pushed forward and they struck the crossbar in the 63rd minute. Enda Stevens found himself in space in the Finnish area and his flicked effort beat the goalkeeper but not the crossbar. A minute later it was the turn of Ireland’s other full-back to go close, this time Doherty running onto a pass and drilling a ball just wide.
But it was Finland who took the lead in the 66th minute through Jensen. Pukki reacted quickest to Randolph’s goal kick when he stole the ball, squared it across goal and Jensen was able to turn the ball over the line to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Connolly had another chance on the Finland goal. He was left in space and was able to turn and get a shot away but again was thwarted by Hradecky.
With five minutes remaining Derby County’s Jason Knight was introduced for Molumby and made his first Ireland senior appearance.
As Ireland pushed for an equaliser they were denied twice by Hradecky late on. First he produced a finger-tip save to flick over a Doherty header, then in the final moments he somehow managed to get down to his right to palm away a Ronan Curtis header that looked to be heading for the bottom corner.
Speaking after the game Ireland manager Stephen Kenny said: “It’s disappointing to lose the game. Matt Doherty had a header over the bar and he shot wide, Aaron Connolly had two efforts, Enda Stevens hit the bar and Ronan Curtis came close, and that was only in the last half-an-hour.
“Overall the players showed their undoubted commitment by pushing right to the end and continuously pushing for that equaliser and showed a fair bit of quality. Maybe our finishing let us down but the goalkeeper Hradecky played really well.
“The young players who have come in have shown a good mentality and I’d be optimistic they’ll go on and be important players for Ireland.”
Finland: Hradecky (GK); Granlund, Uronen, Arajuuri, Toivio; Kamara (Schüller, 75), Sparv (C) Taylo, Soiri (Niskanen, 46); Jensen, Pukki.
Unused substitutes: Joronen (GK), Mäenpää (GK), Ojala, Karjalainen, Väisänen, Pirinen, Alho, Kauko, Pohjanpalo, Raitala.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (GK), Doherty, Stevens, Duffy (C), O’Shea; Hourihane, Hendrick (Idah, 75), Molumby (Knight, 84); Horgan (Curtis, 75), Maguire (Brady ,53), Connolly.
Unused substitutes: Travers (GK), Kelleher (GK), K. Long, S. Long, Cullen, Manning, Christie.
Referee: Lionel Tschudi (SUI)