Josh Cullen stars as Ireland beat Bulgaria Josh Cullen stars as Ireland beat Bulgaria
The Republic of Ireland have won their friendly with Bulgaria at the Aviva tonight. Josh Cullen stars as Ireland beat Bulgaria
Ireland V Bulgaria player: How the team fared
See the goals that put Ireland's U21s top of their European qualifying group

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[team1]Republic of Ireland[/team1][score1]3[/score1]

[team2]Bulgaria[/team2][score2]1[/score2]

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The Republic of Ireland have won their friendly with Bulgaria at the Aviva tonight.

Alan Browne found the net nine minutes after the break only for Bulgaria to equalise with a penalty from Ivelin Popov.

However, a header from Kevin Long and a strike from debutante James Collins gave Mick McCarthy’s side the victory.

McCarthy had handed debuts to Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Travers and Charlton’s on-loan midfielder Josh Cullen in tonight’s game.

The visitors almost took advantage of Ireland’s much-changed defence twice inside the opening 12 minutes with defenders Georgi Pashov and Kristian Dimitrov meeting Nikolay Dimitrov corners, with Travers making a regulation save from the first.

While the Republic were enjoying the lion’s share of the possession, chances were few and far between with Alan Judge heading over and seeing a deflected shot saved by Ivanov.

However, Cullen had to race back to block Daniel Mladenov’s 33rd-minute strike after he had raced clear with the Bulgaria looking dangerous on the break.

Ronan Curtis drilled wide from distance at the other end with four minutes of the first half remaining and then saw his 45th-minute cross only just evade Hogan at full-stretch, and the game remained deadlocked at the break.

Ireland started the second half well, but Egan had to make an important 53rd-minute intervention when he managed to block Mladenov’s shot in the turn after he had controlled Ivan Goranov’s pull-back.

Josh Cullen stars as Ireland beat Bulgaria

But it was the home side who took the lead three minutes later when Ivanov spilled Curtis’ dipping shot and Hogan turned the ball across goal for Browne to roll it into an empty net.

McCarthy responded minutes later by sending on Jack Byrne and James Collins for Judge and Hogan to hand both first senior caps.

Josh Cullen stars as Ireland beat Bulgaria

Ireland’s lead was soon extinguished when, after Cyrus Christie had gifted possession to Goranov, he found striker Bozhidar Kraev, who was tripped by Egan and substitute Ivelin Popov converted the resulting 66th-minute penalty.

Defender Kevin Long came to the rescue with seven minutes remaining when he powered home a header from Byrne’s corner to restore the Republic’s lead.

Josh Cullen stars as Ireland beat Bulgaria

There was more to come when Luton striker James Collins marked his debut with a third four minutes from time when he met fellow substitute Enda Stevens’ volleyed cross to make it 3-1.

Collins’ effort proved to be the final act in a late surge as the Republic saw out time without further drama.

Ireland V Bulgaria player: How the team fared
See the goals that put Ireland's U21s top of their European qualifying group