The Republic of Ireland's worrying form continued on Wednesday as they were beaten 1-0 by Finland in the Nations League, with Fredrik Jensen scoring the only goal.
The Augsburg striker was the winning goalscorer during the reverse fixture in Dublin last month and came back to haunt the Republic of Ireland once again. He slotted home in the 67th minute after a lackadaisical pass from Darren Randolph was intercepted by Teemu Pukki.
Despite four changes from Stephen Kenny, it was a similar story for the Republic of Ireland - they had some promising attacking play but their final product was lacking. However, Enda Stevens did hit the crossbar while Finland goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky made two superb late saves to deny the visitors an equaliser.
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The Republic of Ireland's worrying form continues, having failed to score in four successive games and winless in their last nine competitive internationals. Kenny has also failed to win any of his first five games in charge, the first Irish manager to do since Mick McCarthy in 1996.
They remain third in Group B4 while the victory sent Finland to the top of the table briefly. However, Wales' 1-0 win against Bulgaria later on Wednesday sent them back into first with Finland in second, a point behind Ryan Giggs' side.
How the Republic of Ireland's woes continued
The Helsinki Olympyc Stadium had around 8,000 Finland fans in the stands for the Nations League clash, and both teams on the field went close early on.
Conor Hourihane showed some great foresight to take a quick free-kick, slotting in Sean Maguire down the left. His cross found Daryl Horgan, who played it back for a waiting Jeff Hendrick, but his shot was blocked by the foot of Jere Uronen. A few minutes later, Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara snapped an effort goalwards, but it went straight at Randolph. On the half an hour mark, the lively Aaron Connolly curled a shot straight into Hradecky's arms.
Finland: Hradecky (7), Arajuuri (6), Granlund (7), Toivio (6), Uronen (7), Kamara (7), Taylor (6), Soiri (6), Sparv (7), Jensen (7), Pukki (7).
Subs used: Niskanen (6), Schuller (5), Pohjanpalo (n/a), Raitala (n/a).
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (5), Doherty (7), Stevens (7), Duffy (7), O'Shea (7), Hourihane (6), Hendrick (7), Molumby (7), Connolly (7), Maguire (7), Horgan (6).
Subs used: Brady (6), Curtis (6), Idah (4), Knight (n/a).
Man of the match: Aaron Connolly.
Towards the end of the first half though, Norwich striker Pukki missed two glorious chances. In the 38th minute, Pyry Soiri slotted the ball in for him down the left but he sent a fizzing effort mere inches past the far post. Six minutes later, Pukki made a superb solo run towards the top of the area but he just dragged his shot wide of the same upright.
The second half continued much as the first with a finishing touch lacking at both ends. Dara O'Shea performed well on his debut and blocked an Ilmari Niskanen shot behind just after the hour mark. Not long after, Edna Stevens agonisingly toe-poked an effort onto the top corner of the crossbar before Matt Doherty hammered an effort golawards, only to see it whistle past the upright.
- Finland made three changes. Jukka Raitala, Joel Pohjanpalo and Ilmari Niskanen dropped to the bench and were replaced by Albin Granlund, Pyry Soiri and Fredrik Jensen.
- Dara O’Shea made his senior international debut in one of four Republic of Ireland changes. He came into the side with Aaron Connolly, Sean Maguire, Daryl Horgan while Keith Long, Robbie Brady, James McClean and Shane Long dropped out.
But the Republic of Ireland were the architects of their own downfall as Finland scored the winner in the 66th minute. It was a lazy pass from Randolph as he tried to find Doherty, with Pukki nipping in to steal the ball away before striding into the area. His cross pinged off O'Shea's outstretched foot to Niskanen, with his attempted shot then inadvertently nodded to Jensen's feet by the West Brom defender. It was then a slotted finish for Jensen from point-blank range, with the striker now scoring in his last three Nations League matches.
The Republic of Ireland went agonisingly close to a much-needed leveller in the final 10 minutes. Captain Shane Duffy nodded a Robbie Brady corner over the crossbar before Hradecky made two superb saves. The first saw him tip a Doherty header just over the crossbar before making a low, reaction save from Ronan Curtis' own nodded effort in the dying minutes of the game.
The goalkeeper was mobbed by his team-mates at full-time after his heroics as the Republic of Ireland's wait for a goal and victory goes on.
Man of the match - Aaron Connolly
Although it was a frustrating evening for the Republic of Ireland and Connolly personally, it was an impressive return to the starting XI for the 20-year-old forward. He drew a number of fouls from Finland - including a crunching effort from captain Tim Sparv in the first half.
He continually made runs into the area but he did lack a finishing touch, sending his efforts mostly at the goalkeeper and he was his own worst critic when speaking after the game.
He told Sky Sports: "I was selfish at times. I probably should've squared one to Daryl (Horgan) but I tried to go on a right angle. It's those sorts of moments that cost us the game and I need to start looking at that side of my game... At times, you need to know when to shoot and when to pass. It was one of those things where, at the time, I thought I should shoot but looking back, I should be squaring them."
Kenny rues squad disruption
Republic of Ireland manager Kenny cited mitigating factors after his wait for a first win was extended to five games.
He told Sky Sports: "We've lost eight players through Covid-related issues and we have three players, including our captain Seam Coleman and Harry Arter, who pulled out of the original squad, and then we lost David McGoldrick and James McCarthy, so there are mitigating factors.
"The fact that we could lose eight players the morning of the Welsh game and go and play reasonably well and hold our own against them speaks volumes for the players, really, because they didn't lose in Slovakia, where they were absolutely exceptional.
"Finland played well at times and so did we. It was a pretty even match. Again, we are in the dressing room wondering did we deserve to lose that, and the answer is no, we probably didn't.
"The players have shown real character and the young players that have come in have shown a great mentality, and I am optimistic that they will go on to be important players for Ireland.
"You can't legislate for a mistake sometimes and Darren has been very consistent for us. That is his 47th international for us tonight and he has been consistent for a number of years now.
"It's one of those things you have to accept. It was a disappointing goal to concede, of course."
- Finland have won five of their six home games in the UEFA Nations League (L1), conceding just one goal on home soil in the competition.
- Of the Republic of Ireland's last 20 matches, 16 have been goalless at half-time, including each of their last six. Indeed, Ireland themselves have scored just three first half goals over their last 24 internationals.
- Fredrik Jensen has scored in each of his last three UEFA Nations League matches (three goals); no Finland player has scored more in the competition (level with Teemu Pukki).
The Republic of Ireland will be back in action on Sunday, November 15, when they make the short trip to Wales in the Nations League before host Bulgaria on Wednesday, November 18. Finland will also face Wales and Bulgaria next month, as well as a friendly against France on Wednesday November 11.