Stephen Kenny admitted his first competitive win as Republic of Ireland manager was “overdue” after seeing Callum Robinson set up a 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory in Azerbaijan.
Kenny had taken charge of 12 meaningful fixtures before the trip to Baku – one of them a 1-1 draw with the Azeris in Dublin last month – and had not emerged victorious from any of them.
However, Robinson’s first-half double and a third goal from substitute Chiedozie Ogbene handed him just his second win in 17 games as Ireland boss and belatedly kickstarted the Republic’s Group A campaign, although too late to rekindle hopes of making it to Qatar next year.
Kenny said: “The win was overdue and 3-0 away from home in a qualifier is rare.
“That’s one defeat in our last seven games and that was a late Portugal goal from (Cristiano) Ronaldo, so I feel we’re improving all the time.
“We have undergone a change in system from March onwards and it suits the players that we have. We’re learning all the time and improving in our attacking play.
“We got some criticism in the home game against Azerbaijan, but they were three great games (against Portugal, Azerbaijan and Serbia last month) and I thought we performed well at times in that week.
“And today was good to get the goals that give us a platform.”
It proved a significant evening for Robinson, who boarded the plane having spent the build-up to the game embroiled in controversy having revealed he had not been vaccinated against Covid-19 despite twice contracting the virus.
He needed just seven minutes to make his mark when he sent a left-footed shot past keeper Shakhrudin Magomedaliyev’s despairing dive and into the top corner, and he doubled his tally after a period of Azeri pressure six minutes before the break when a right-footed strike clipped a defender and evaded Magomedaliyev’s dive.
The West Brom frontman passed up a series of opportunities to complete a hat-trick as the visitors threatened repeatedly after the break, and although Gavin Bazunu had to tip a Gara Garayev piledriver on to the crossbar, Ireland never looked like surrendering their advantage.
They cemented the win with seconds of normal time remaining when substitute Ogbene, who became the first African-born player to represent Ireland at senior level when he came off the bench in June’s friendly in Hungary, headed home a third.
Asked about Robinson’s contribution, Kenny said: “We have missed him as he wasn’t always available, but he’s very creative and very intelligent in the positions he takes up and the decisions he makes.
“He had three or four easier ones in the second half and the volley, but the two goals were outstanding finishes. He was terrific.”
There was praise too for Rotherham winger Ogbene, although Kenny admitted he was not necessarily the main target for Josh Cullen’s corner.
He said: “We can’t say we worked on that corner that he scored from. He’s not a target that we’d be normally hitting. He took it well and I’m delighted for him.”