14.10.1987 at 15:30 Lansdowne Road
Republic of Ireland
2 - 0
Referee: Jan Keizer (Holland)
European Cup Qualifier / Prog-match
Paul Mc Grath
Mick Mc Carthy
Ronnie Whelan Jnr
Wednesday, October 14th, 1987
Stato:20th Cap for Bonner and Paul Mc Grath, 60th Cap for Stapleton.
50th European Championship game
Brady is sent off - Injury and Suspension would deprive Brady of playing in Euro 88
Republic of Ireland 2 (McGrath, Moran)
Republic of Ireland 2 Bulgaria 0: THE SONG was back in Irish football and the bitter wages of lost battles forgotten, if only temporarily, at Lansdowne Road yesterday afternoon as some 26,000 spectators roared Ireland home to a memorable success over Bulgaria at the end of their European championship qualifying programme.
A game in some danger of going wrong for Jack Charlton’s team, was rescued initially by Paul McGrath’s 52nd-minute goal before another Manchester United player, Kevin Moran, finally pushed it beyond the reach of the pugnacious Bulgarians with a second score, five minutes from the end.
A surging tempestuous match was to hold one more moment of high drama for even as the Irish celebrated Moran’s goal, Liam Brady found himself embroiled in an incident which led to his sending off and an automatic suspension in the New Year.
Brady, earlier booked in an incident involving Nikolov, was guilty of the impassioned response, directly in front of the referee, after being fouled by Sadkov and after a delay of some seconds, he walked, reluctantly, to the sideline.
Even before he got there, Charlton, in common with almost every soul in the ground, was on his feet to applaud another tour de force by the much travelled West Ham player, a performance which fitted easily into the best of an international career which has encompassed 66 appearances in the national team.
His was the sad fate, however, of becoming the first Irish player to be sent off in an international since the infamous battle of Sofia 11 years ago when Mick Martin and Noel Campbell were among the four players censured at the end of a massed punch up.
This was, unquestionably, the most tensely fought international I have watched in years, a vast exercise in commitment which was to eventually suck in even the most timid.
It was, in a sense, a predictable sequel to the controversial meeting of the countries in the Bulgarian capital last April when the Irish claimed, with some justification, that they were undone by at least one highly debatable decision by the referee in a 2-1 defeat which was to hang like a millstone around them for much of the summer.
The scars of that game were still raw as the teams lined up for the start yesterday and with some of the Bulgarian players infuriating the opposition with time wasting tactics from as early as the first quarter, it condensed, inevitably, into a war of attrition in which survival was all about skill, strength and, perhaps most important of all, naked courage.
Even in that explosive setting, some of the football was quite magnificent but the abiding impression of a day when the Irishmen wrested back their self respect and silenced even the most niggardly of their critics, was one of rich character by the Irish.
“This was easily the best result achieved by an Irish team since I became associated with them but, sadly, it is unlikely to be good enough to get us through,” said Charlton. “The odds are still very much against us but if the Scots can do us a few favours, all may not yet be lost.
“We worked hard in not allowing the Bulgarians get into the places they wanted to play from and eventually we got them into such turmoil at the back, that they didn’t know where to go.
“Any manager would have a hell of a job improving on that team – it is the one I probably would have picked for the entire championship had I been able. Everybody played magnificently – it could have been a lot more in our favour at the finish.”
On Brady’s dismissal, Charlton said: “I didn’t see the sending off incident, but I was mystified about the first time he was booked – particularly since we were awarded a free kick in the incident leading up to it. That said, however, I thought the referee did an excellent job overall.”
Brady, himself, took full responsibility for his ill-advised retaliation but in every other respect, his was the performance of the game. At times, he was profligate in his output and when Ireland had failed to score by half-time, there was just a suspicion that he would pay for his early exuberance in the second-half.
His legs, undeniably, were beginning to give out in the last quarter, but he still managed to sustain his effort long enough to regain midfield control from the Bulgarians immediately after McGrath’s lead goal.
That, ironically, was the only phase of the game in which Ireland were not in control territorially.
Bulgaria had come, unashamedly to save a point but once they fell behind, they uncoiled the spring and ran with conviction at the home team.
Some of Bulgaria’s one-touch moves as executed by Sirakov, Sadkov and occasionally Simeonov were breathtaking, fostering a situation in which they were always capable of scoring on the break.
They were scarcely helped by some erratic goalkeeping by Ananiev, making his international debut, but directly in front of him, Iliev and Dimitrov clattered into the Irish front runners Frank Stapleton and John Aldridge so persistently that they managed to keep their net intact in the first-half.
After some good knock-ons in the opening half, Aldridge faded perceptibly before being replaced by Niall Quinn but Stapleton, brave as ever in his selfless running off the ball, stayed to the end to savour this, one of the sweetest of all wins in an Ireland career which stretches back to 1976.
Mark Lawrenson and Paddy Bonner both made competent returns to international football, exposed to a situation in which Bulgaria were capable of raiding at speed through the middle.
Moran and Mick McCarthy were impressively resourceful in the pivotal positions in defence.
Ronnie Whelan, too, enjoyed some great moments at left back but the outstanding performer in the Irish defence was, almost certainly, Paul McGrath who, quite apart from his goal, had a galvanic influence on those around him.
On one occasion, when the score sheet was still blank, he came close to putting the ball in his own net but otherwise his was a display which embodied the defiance of an entire team.
Ray Houghton and, to a lesser extent, Tony Galvin contributed significantly in midfield but the man who mattered most in the line was the indefatigable Brady.
He was, simply, the most influential player in either side and in that situation, his sending off was cruel if not undeserved.
Ireland opened at a frenetic pace but when Stapleton, in space, failed to put the ball in the net from just three yards after Lawrenson’s lob had enticed the Bulgarian goalkeeper into serious error after just four minutes, there were visions of another unrewarding stand.
Stapleton, fighting furiously to compensate for that error, was just wide with the glancing header from Houghton’s cross in the 29th minute and, in between, Galvin overran the ball when Ananiev could only parry a smartly struck shot from Aldndge.
Bonner, racing off his line did well to deny Sirakov after Voynov’s clever flick had given him a clear run at goal and in that moment, we knew that Bulgaria were, indeed, capable of hitting hard on the break.
Fortunately, it never came to that and when McGrath broke the deadlock, seven minutes into the second-half, Ireland could at last breathe easily.
McCarthy, exuding skill, created the chance and when Ananiev, under pressure from Stapleton, could only punch the cross directly to the feet of McGrath, the Manchester United player swept the ball exultantly into the roof of the net from no more than 10 yards.
It was John Byrne, a second-half replacement for Galvin, who established the opening for the second goal.
After Niall Quinn, had headed the ball down, Byrne returned it across the face of the goalmouth and Moran, brooking no interference, timed the run precisely to head home from four yards.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Bonner (Celtic), McGrath (Manchester Utd), Moran (Manchester Utd), McCarthy (Celtic), Whelan (Liverpool), Houghton (Oxford), Lawrenson(Liverpool), Brady (West Ham), Galvin (Sheffield Wednesday), Stapleton (AJax), Aldridge (Liverpool). Substitutes: Byrne (QPR) for Galvin (77 mins), Quinn (Arsenal) for Aldridge (77 mins).
BULGARIA: Ananiev, Nikolov, Iliev, Petrov, Dimitrov, Simeonov, Voynov, Sadkov, Stoitchkov, Sirakov, Iskrenov.
Substitutes: Valsv for Ananiev (55 mins), Alexandrov for Voynov (65 mins).
Referee: J N Keizer (Holland).