The Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team paid the price for defensive errors when they lost to Slovakia in their Istria Cup Group A match in Umag.
Despite having the bulk of the possession and creating the better chances, the Irish were punished for defensive lapses in the second half when they were playing into a gale force wind as goals in the 51st and 72nd minute gave Slovakia victory.
Manager Sue Ronan is using the Istria Cup as part of her preparations for the European Championship qualifying campaign which will kick-off in September and is hoping to give game-time to all 21 players in the squad game. She made six personnel changes and four positional changes from the side which drew 1-1 with Hungary on Wednesday with only left-back Sophie Perry remaining in the same position.
Raheny United goalkeeper Niamh Reid Burke replaced Emma Byrne for her second cap and first start while Amazon Grimstad midfielder Emma Beckett made her debut. Niamh Fahey, on her 54th appearance, was handed the captain’s armband for the first time and partnered Megan Campbell in the centre of defence with Meabh De Burca moving from central midfield to right back. Ciara Grant joined Ruesha Littlejohn and Beckett in the engine room with Aine O’Gorman and Stephanie Roche on the flanks and Fiona O’Sullivan at centre-forward.
There was drama during the warm-ups when glass was found on the playing surface at Umag’s No.1 pitch so the match was moved to the No.4 pitch at the complex on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. That meant the wind now became a major factor as it was blowing straight down the pitch.
However, despite playing with the wind in the first 45 minutes, Ireland had nothing to show for another dominant performance at half-time. O’Gorman did bring out the very best in the Slovakian keeper Maria Korenciova after five minutes when her left foot shot was turned around the post. Fiona O’Sullivan and Stephanie Roche both went close before Ciara Grant shot wide with the goals at her mercy. Just before half-time O’Sullivan looked to be fouled in the area but she remained on her feet and shot wide under intense pressure from the Slovak defence.
Denise O’Sullivan replaced Littlejohn at half-time as the Irish adapted to playing into the gale force wind and they continued to enjoy the bulk of the possession as the Slovaks struggled with the wind.
However, six minutes into the second-half, the Slovaks were handed a gift when a series of defensive lapses culminated in Lucia Suskova blocking an attempted clearance by Campbell and Reid Burke was unable to get across her goal in time to stop the ball ricocheting into the net.
Diane Caldwell and Julie Ann Russell were introduced for Beckett and Roche on 68 minutes as Ireland continued to chase the game but their task increased in magnitude four minutes later when a Reid-Burke’s attempt to punch away a curling shot from Veronika Klechova ended with the ball flying straight into the air and then bouncing into the roof of the net.
The Irish laid siege to the Slovak goal for the final 18 minutes, with Wexford Youth's Carol Breen coming on for her senior debut, but couldn’t break down a massed defence playing with a wind advantage although O’Gorman and Denise O’Sullivan both went close.
“It’s very disappointing to think that we have dominated two games in terms of possession and chances created yet only have one point to show for it. However, the purpose of this week is to learn and we have learned valuable lessons that hopefully will serve us well in the future. At this level you have got take your chances and you cannot give away soft goals or you get punished as we have done in two games. So we’re all disappointed right now, but we will regroup over the next few days and be ready for Austria on Monday,” said Ronan.
Republic of Ireland: Niamh Reid-Burke (Raheny United); Meabh De Burca (Galway WFC), Niamh Fahey (Chelsea), Megan Campbell (Florida State University), Sophie Perry (Brighton & Hove Albion); Ruesha Littlejohn (Celtic), Emma Beckett (Amazon Grimstad), Ciara Grant (UCD Waves), Aine O'Gorman (UCD Waves), Fiona O'Sullivan (Notts County), Stephanie Roche (Houston Dash). Subs: Denise O’Sullivan (Glasgow City for Littlejohn (46 mins), Diane Caldwell (Avaldsnes) for Beckett (68), Julie Ann Russell (UCD Waves) for Roche (68), Carol Breen (Wexford Youths Women’s AFC) for F O’Sullivan (80 mins). Unused Subs: Emma Byrne (Arsenal), Louise Quinn (Eskilstuna United), Lauren Dwyer (Raheny United), Megan Connolly (College Corinthians).