Tuesday, September 09, 2003 :
Connolly and Dunne on target
Republic of Ireland 2 Turkey 2
David Connolly’s first international goal for two years gave Ireland manager Brian Kerr something to ponder ahead of next month’s decisive Euro 2004 qualifier in Switzerland.
Ireland will almost certainly need to win their Group 10 clash in Basel if they are to have any chance of reaching next summer’s European Championship finals in Portugal, and Kerr must surely now give serious consideration to playing Connolly alongside Robbie Keane, with Damien Duff wide on the right, for that match.
West Ham striker Connolly was making his 39th international appearance and claimed his ninth goal in superb fashion after 35 minutes of the friendly at Lansdowne Road.
Collecting a pass from Liverpool’s Steve Finnan, he showed a great burst of speed to slip Aston Villa defender Alpay on the left before cutting into the box and burying his shot inside the near post.
It was Connolly’s first goal in an Ireland shirt since he scored against Cyprus in World Cup qualifier in October 2001.
While the Irish players saw this game as their chance to stake a claim for a place in the side to take on the Swiss, the Turks were taking the opportunity to play against a team whose style of play most resembles their next opponents England in a Euro 2004 showdown.
The visitors were always dangerous on the break and Ireland’s lead was cancelled out after 52 minutes thanks to a slick move as Blackburn midfielder Tugay fed Ergun on the left and his cross was headed home at the near post by Hakan Sukur.
Turkey threatened to spoil Ireland’s night just four minutes from the end when Ergun crossed from the left and the defence stood still to allow Okan Yilmaz to ghost in at the far post and drill the ball into the far corner.
However, two minutes into injury time Stephen Carr’s corner from the left was fired home by fellow substitute Richard Dunne to end the night on a bright note.
Kerr had kept his promise to give the Ireland’s fringe players a chance to impress as he made seven changes to the team which started against Russia in Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
Gary Breen, Damien Duff, Colin Healy and Kevin Kilbane were the only survivors, and Aston Villa’s Mark Kinsella captained the side and gave a tidy performance.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s scout at Lansdowne Road, Nigel Pearson, could report to the England coach that Turkey fielded a strong starting line-up, which included seven of those who played at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light in the Euro 2004 qualifier earlier this year.
The Irish fans turned out in their numbers to support their heroes and they had cause for brief celebrations after 11 minutes.
Ian Harte’s long ball into the box was brilliantly controlled and swept into the next by Duff – who was playing on the right of midfield – but the joy was cut short by an offside flag.
There was no escaping the fact this match had that “friendly” feel about it, which was highlighted by the fans’ Mexican waves as the football failed to excite them, although Nicky Colgan was called upon after 34 minutes to get down low to save from Tuncay after a lay-off from Sukur on the edge of the box.
That friendly feeling changed within a minute, however, as Connolly gave the crowd of more than 27,000 something to celebrate.
Turkey suffered a blow on the hour when Rustu made a meal of hooking the ball into the stand and injured his right leg in the process.
The Barcelona stopper hobbled off and was replaced by Omer Catkic – a Fabien Barthez lookalike, although he too was replaced in the closing stages.
One of Kerr’s priorities in this friendly was to find a partner for Breen at the heart of the defence, as skipper Kenny Cunningham is suspended for the Swiss trip.
Newcastle’s Andy O’Brien acquitted himself well for 75 minutes before being replaced by Dunne, who is the more likely of the two to get the nod in Basle.
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