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Celebrations after Ireland's goal. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
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Ireland secure scrappy win over Hungary to keep 100% Nations League record

A 65th-minute own goal saw Ireland win 1-0 at a freezing Tallaght Stadium.

Republic of Ireland 1

Hungary 0

THE 65TH-MINUTE GOAL at a freezing Tallaght Stadium perfectly summed up the entire game: scrappy.

It was Hungary captain Henrietta Csiszár who broke the deadlock, but it was into her own net.

The electric Heather Payne sent a delivery in from the right, but like so many times before, it looked like nothing would come off it.

It just was not happening.

Until goalkeeper Réka Szocs spilled the ball, and Csiszár hammered her clearance wrongly home.

The crowd erupted — the attendance was just 6,752, despite the FAI saying all tickets were again sold — but Ireland’s celebrations were relatively subdued.

Relief was the overriding feeling.

It was ultimately a case of job done. Just about.

This was below-par, to say the least, but Ireland keep their 100% record in Group B1 of the Uefa Women’s Nations League. With promotion to League A already secured, that’s now five wins from five for interim head coach Eileen Gleeson.

The teams’ 18-place chasm in the Fifa World Rankings was far from evident tonight: Hungary are 42nd, 18 places below Ireland. They were much-improved from the 4-0 defeat in Budapest, when Margret Kratz’s side were without some of their big names due to illness.

Gleeson made four changes from the 1-0 win in Albania that sealed promotion. She stuck with her 3-5-2-1 formation for the most part, with Ruesha Litlejohn returning to midfield, Megan Connolly starting at centre-half, and Payne and Izzy Atkinson the (often alternating) wide players. Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan continued in higher roles, while Kyra Carusa was the focal point in attack.

Diane Caldwell, Sinead Farrelly, Abbie Larkin and Erin McLaughlin all dropped out of the XI, with Lily Agg, Saoirse Noonan and new teenage recruit Freya Healy not included in the matchday 23.

Amidst bitterly cold conditions, both team’s players gave their jackets to the mascots through the pre-match formalities, before slowly warming into the action.

One moment early on summed up a poor first half. Katie McCabe tried to get away from Dóra Zeller with a back heel, but the Hungarian attacker frustrated — and likely surprised — the Irish captain by winning the ball back.

McCabe’s side, though, assumed control, as expected. Their first real chance arrived in the 12th minute, but Carusa hit the side-netting after capitalising on a sloppy Laura Kovács backpass.

They successfully found width in the opening exchanges, with Payne and Atkinson lively. O’Sullivan headed over a pinpoint delivery from the latter, while they tried to threaten on several occasions, but Ireland turned ragged in possession thereafter.

The physical Hungarians certainly frustrated their hosts, but much of their errors were unforced as they were clogged and disjointed. Kratz’s side, too, pressed high and posed a threat in attack, with Courtney Brosnan saving a Evelin Fenyvesi effort, Csiszár blazing over and, fortunately for Ireland, a dangerous Viktótia Szabó ball across goal ultimately going uncontested.

katie-mccabe-and-emoke-papai Ireland’s Katie McCabe and Emőke Pápai of Hungary. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

At the other end, McCabe’s call for a penalty went unanswered, the industrious Littlejohn lifted over and Szocs brilliantly denied O’Sullivan amidst a golden opportunity to hit the front in the 36th minute. The North Carolina Courage captain was slipped through by Player of the Match Payne, but Szocs crucially saved with her foot.

It was the pick of Ireland’s changes as the half petered out: Caitlin Hayes did float a header wide from a Connolly corner and Carusa tried to make things happen up top, but to no avail. Lilla Turáni produced a big tackle on McCabe, while Louise Quinn stepped up with a block to cut out a Hungarian counterattack.

The game restarted in a similar vein. It was scrappy and relatively even; Hungary energised by fresh legs and Ireland faltering. Brosnan comfortably claimed a Zeller effort, before substitute Emőke Papai ambitiously let fly from distance with the ‘keeper off her line.

Set-piece followed set-piece from there, with Connolly and McCabe kept busy. Tackles continued to fly in, while Gleeson turned to Lucy Quinn, Jamie Finn and Sinead Farrelly from the bench. Farrelly was the victim of one heavy tackle, but shook it off to knit play together and add composure.

McCabe moved to left-wing back, with Atkinson departing, and the captain made amends for her earlier robbery with a sublime turn. That, and chants of ‘We’ve Got McCabe’ were highlights on an untypical quiet night, while another Hayes header was ultimately as close as Ireland came in the second half — until that 65th-minute opener, in which Farrelly was prominent.

Hungary looked to respond immediately, and continued to frustrate Ireland.

Zeller hit the sidenetting after an important deflection off Connolly, while the Girls In Green prodded and probed, but that was that.

Job done. Just about.

They round out an historic 2023 against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park on Tuesday.

The North beat Albania 4-0 earlier today to get their noses in front in the race for second place.

IRELAND: Courtney Brosnan; Caitlin Hayes, Louise Quinn, Megan Connolly; Heather Payne, Ruesha Littlejohn (Jamie Finn 56), Tyler Toland (Sinead Farrelly 64), Izzy Atkinson (Lucy Quinn 56); Denise O’Sullivan, Katie McCabe (captain); Kyra Carusa.

HUNGARY: Réka Szocs; Laura Kovács (Boglárka Vida 72), Lilla Turányi, Hanna Németh, Diána Németh; Luca Papp, Henrietta Csiszár (captain) (Dora Sule 81), Dóra Zeller, Evelin Fenyvesi (Emőke Papai HT), Viktória Szabó (Zsanett Kaján 81); Fanni Vachter (Bernadett Zágor HT).

Referee: Shona Shukrula (Netherlands).

Written by Emma Duffy and posted on the42.ie

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