The Republic of Ireland ended their season with a hard-fought draw against an impressive Ukraine side in their Nations League clash in Lodz.
Stephen Kenny's side were second best for large chunks of this international fixture against a ball-playing Ukraine side, however, it was Ireland who took the lead in the 31st minute with a fine individual effort from Nathan Collins.
Artem Dovbyk restored parity in the 47th minute, and while it looked like it would lead to more, Ireland dug in, held firm, and in the end saw out the final stages comfortably enough to secure the draw.
There were emotional scenes at the start as the Ukraine national anthem rang around this compact Polish venue, with the supporters raising their national flag in support of their war-torn country as a message of peace was displayed throughout the arena.
Ireland, clad in away orange, started on the front foot, winning a corner inside the first two minutes; the clever set-piece worked in on top of Dmytro Riznyk, who fumbled under pressure, but the referee saved his blushes with a free out despite minimal contact from the Ireland players attacking the ball.
Ten minutes in, Ukraine had their passing game operating to perfection, dragging the Ireland team all out of shape, and it led to their first chance on goal in the eighth minute as Ruslan Malinovskyi hit a ferocious shot that really tested Caoimhin Kelleher, however, the keeper got two strong hands behind the ball and parried it away and out of danger.
Troy Parrot and Scott Hogan had to sit deep in front of the midfield, looking to reduce the space for the home side to go through and look to rely on hopeful balls out the channels.
Eventually Ireland moved the line up to halfway and then a hopeful break allowed Parrott to run deep and feed James McClean high on the left. The ball was worked across to Knight on the right and his deep ball found Parrott unmarked at the back post.
The striker looked to put real venom in the headed effort, however, it flew across the face of goal and did not test the home keeper, and it was a real missed opportunity to take the lead against the run of play.
Ukraine were back in on goal in the 22nd minute and this time they took route one to send Vitaliy Mykolenko through on goal, racing in from the left flank.
The Everton man put the head down and drove the ball low and hard at the Ireland keeper, however, his Merseyside rival was equal to the task, as was Alan Browne, who made a fine intervention from the rebounded effort.
During a stoppage in play Parrott was called over to the sideline as Kenny and Andrews gave him some information to take on board – no doubt some advice to close the home side down in possession.
Remarkably, Ireland then took the lead in the 31st minute as Kenny’s men did actually stop the home side playing out of their own half as Mykola Shaparenko played the ball from the edge of his box into midfield.
Collins read it, intercepted it, and then after weaving past two or three players, finished it.
Ukraine 0-1 Ireland - Nathan Collins puts the visitors in front with a sensational individual goal having delivered a 'masterclass' of defending in the first half hour #rtesoccer #UKRvIRL— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) June 14, 2022
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The big Burnley defender worked his way inside the box and then with the deftest of finishes, caressed the ball around the keeper with the outside of the right foot and into the back of the net.
Ukraine looked to hit back and were right into attack mode four minutes later, as substitute Mykhailo Mudryk, who had earlier replaced the injured Ruslan Malinovskyi, whipped a dangerous ball to the back post. Oleksandr Karavaev arrived at pace and took the ball first time, however, he blasted it high and wide.
But Ireland were getting opportunities to attack, and in the 38th minute Knight ran through creating space for a shot on target, and while Riznyk parried it away, it went straight to Parrott.
Players inside, the striker just clipped a hopeful ball across the face of goal and from there it was easy for the keeper to read and retrieve.
Ukraine had a penalty shout three minutes before the break as Andriy Yarmolenko went down inside the box.
Dara O’Shea made clear contact with the ball, however, ahead of the turf tumble and the referee was right on hand to wave it away, and Ireland saw out the remaining minutes to take the narrowest of leads into the second half.
It took just two minutes of the second half for Ukraine to draw level following a quick move down the left, before a clever switch of play sent Yarmolenko in on the right side of the box.
Ukraine 1-1 Ireland - Artem Dovbyk has the easiest of finishes after the Irish defence is caught exposed, playing Andriy Yarmolenko onside #rtesoccer #UKRvIRL— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) June 14, 2022
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Time to look up and pick his pass, he rolled it through a group of players to the unmarked Dovbyk to make no mistake with the simplest of finishes.
A set-piece in the 50th minute gave Ireland their first look at goal, and the dropping ball fell at the feet of Darragh Lenihan but the snapshot just flew over the bar.
In the 60th minute, Ireland’s high press proved successful as the ball was intercepted and the first real passing sequence of note followed, aided by the arrival of Callum Robinson, who had replaced the injured Scott Hogan.
And it led to a couple of chances in quick succession as first Parrott and then Knight hit hopeful efforts, with the latter the better of the two forcing Riznyk to go low to gather.
Two minutes later, Ukraine were flying forward again as Mykolenko got to the byline and slammed the ball across the face, but thankfully for Ireland there was no one there to take advantage this time of asking.
Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick were sent on for the final 25 minutes, replacing Jayson Molumby and Knight to give fresh energy in midfield, but it was the home side who kept on the front foot as the Ireland defence was carved open once again, with Mudryk getting into the box with options inside.
Caught in two minds between shooting and crossing, perhaps, the midfielder fell over and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.
The Ukraine pace noticeably faded once inside the final 15 minutes, while Chiedozie Ogbene’s introduction offered Ireland an outlet up the field, however, it looked as if the game was going to ease to a conclusion.
But in the 88th minute, Ireland worked their way up the pitch and suddenly Robinson was in on the left with Ogbene in a great position arriving into the box.
The ball across was never getting to the striker and Riznyk was on hand to prevent an unlikely, and undeserving Ireland winning goal.
And it was the home side who had the final chance on goal, as yellow and blue smoke bombs were set off in the stands in a show of patriotic passion, and while Mudryk raced into the box, his squared ball was crowded out, as Ireland held on for what was a battling point to end the summer series.
Ukraine: Dmytro Riznyk; Vitaliy Mykolenko, Oleksandr Karavaev, Illia Zabarnyi, Mykola Matviyenko (Denys Popov 73); Serhiy Sydorchuk, Ruslan Malinovskyi (Mykhailo Mudryk 28), Oleksandr Zinchenko; Andriy Yarmolenko (capt), Mykola Shaparenko, Artem Dovbyk (Danylo Sikan 73)
Republic of Ireland: Caoimhin Kelleher; Dara O'Shea, Darragh Lenihan, Nathan Collins; Alan Browne, James McClean, Josh Cullen, Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick 67), Jason Knight (Conor Hourihane 67); Troy Parrott (Chiedozie Ogbene 80), Scott Hogan (Callum Robinson 57).
Referee: Ali Palabıyık (TUR)