By Damian Spellman, PA
Stephen Kenny was left to bemoan defensive errors as the Republic of Ireland’s hopes of heading into their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign on the back of two victories were undone by Norway.
Kenny had targeted friendly wins over the Norwegians on Thursday evening and Malta on Sunday to set them up for the resumption of competitive fixtures with a daunting opener against France in March.
However, Ireland will run out at the Ta’ Qali National Stadium this weekend with issues to address after Norway duo Leo Ostigard and Ohi Omoijuanfo both took advantage of poor defending at set-pieces to condemn them to a 2-1 defeat at the Aviva Stadium.
Asked about his hopes of hitting the ground running in March, Kenny said: “It’s a completely different game tactically in March.
“We did a lot of things well tonight, but our defending for both set-pieces… We knew he [Ostigard] was really good in the air, we have seen it for Napoli. We know what he does and it wasn’t good enough.
“But the second goal, we have six against three and Nathan [Collins] has headed it against the player and he scored. It’s a bad goal that we conceded.”
Substitute Omoijuanfo struck from close range with five minutes remaining to win a contest in which the visitors had led through Ostigard’s first-half header, only to be pegged back when Alan Browne levelled from distance with 69 minutes gone.
Ireland looked the more likely winners at that point, but when Collins failed to deal adequately with Martin Odegaard’s free-kick, Omoijuanfo pounced to condemn the hosts to a demoralising defeat.
Kenny said: “I don’t think we deserved to lose. It was a very even match overall.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t create chances in the first half. Norway play a very compact out-of-possession system, but the space is on the outside and we couldn’t penetrate enough in the first half.
“[Wing-backs] Matt [Doherty] and Callum [O’Dowda] had a lot of joy in the second half and we created good chances before we scored.
“But just to concede the goal we did just absolutely undid all our good work. All the good work we did to get back in the game, we undid it just in a moment of not being able to defend that wide free-kick.”
Norway boss Stale Solbakken was a happy man after seeing his side get themselves across the finishing line without star striker Erling Haaland.
He said: “I think overall we had a few more chances for them and probably deserved to win. It was huge for us to get the win.
“I saw the statistics before the game that I think Ireland only had one loss here in nine or something. We have great respect for the Ireland team, they had their moments in the game and it was important for us to get the win.”
Asked about the likelihood of Haaland featuring in Sunday’s friendly against Finland in Oslo, Solbakken added: “I’ve spoken to him and we will make a decision. But I would not bet the house on it.”