Martin O’Neill leapt to Jeff Hendrick’s defence after the midfielder was confronted by furious Denmark players during Saturday evening’s 0-0 Nations League draw in Dublin.
The Burnley midfielder incurred the wrath of the Danes five minutes into the game at the Aviva Stadium when he dispossessed midfielder Thomas Delaney as he attempted to put the ball into touch to allow Ireland’s Harry Arter to undergo treatment.
Hendrick ran in on goal and ultimately dragged his shot wide, and was instantly surrounded by Denmark players, with goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in particular making his feelings abundantly clear.
Manager Age Hareide later claimed the incident was not in the spirit of the game and said Spanish referee Javier Estrada should have intervened, saying: “The referee should have whistled and dropped the ball after that incident.
“It’s against the rules of football because if there is any doubts or people being misled while trying to play fair, the ref should be aware of that. The responsibility lies with the ref in this situation.”
However, Republic counterpart O’Neill insisted Hendrick had been unaware that Arter was down and that Delaney was attempting to play the ball into touch.
He said: “[He was] totally unaware, obviously. I’ve spoken to him in there and he didn’t know. He thought it was just a sloppy pass by their player.
“It would have been interesting if he had scored the goal and Denmark had given it to us deliberately or thought he was going to put the ball out of play.
“It might have been one of those instances where we’d have to let them score at the other end. But listen, it didn’t materialise. He missed.”
That opening was one of few Ireland created on a night when their best attempt was a second-half shot from Cyrus Christie, playing in an unaccustomed midfield role.
Denmark enjoyed the greater share of possession, but, although the returning Harry Arter
had to clear a Simon Kjaer header off the line and keeper Darren Randolph made late saves from Martin Braithwaite and Delaney, they were unable to find a way past a defence which had conceded nine goals in its previous two competitive games.
O’Neill was happy enough to have banked a first Nations League point ahead of Wales’ visit to the Aviva on Tuesday evening.
He said: “We’ve kept a clean sheet, that’s good. One step a time, a few building blocks, as people might say.
“Denmark, who were beaten in the World Cup by the finalists (Croatia) on penalties, didn’t eventually cause us that many problems. Our attitude was to try to win the game and we nearly did that towards the end.”
Nevertheless Hareide, who side beat Wales 2-0 last month, was the happier manager.
Asked if he believed they could top the group, he said with a smile: “I know we are topping it now, that’s for sure.
“But I think it will be a tight game between Wales and Ireland. Again here, I think it will be very, very tight. My bet is it’s going to be a draw. Hopefully.”