The All Whites have been defeated 3-1 by Ireland in the first match of Danny Hay’s reign but he will take plenty of positives after a promising display from his new-look line-up.
Hay had indicated he was going to give opportunities to young talent by picking seven uncapped players in his squad and he handed three of those starts at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin with Joe Bell, Elijah Just and Callum McCowatt all making their debuts.
Each gave a good account of themselves on the senior international stage with Bell particularly impressive in his deep-lying role in front of the back four while Just and McCowatt both caused problems at times for the Irish defence.
The newcomers were joined by a spine of experience in the starting line-up as Winston Reid, Ryan Thomas and Chris Wood all featured for the All Whites for the first time since the end of 2017 while Bayern Munich midfielder Sarpreet Singh took on the playmaker’s mantle in the middle of the park.
It was an exciting mix of proven and promising talent, and all had licence to express themselves as Hay had made clear his intention to adopt an possession-based, attack-minded approach.
That proved difficult in the early stages as Ireland, ranked 85 places above New Zealand, dominated the ball but the All Whites began to grow into the game and silenced the locals with a goal of exceptional quality on the half hour.
In a passage of play that provided a perfect snapshot of Hay’s philosophy, Thomas and Wood combined with some sharp interplay before Liberato Cacace was released to cross for Callum McCowatt, who slid in to score on debut.
New Zealand appeared likely to enter the break with a lead but Ireland hit back on the stroke of half-time, equalising when Derrick Williams headed in a Robbie Brady corner.
Skipper Reid, who has only recently returned from injury, was replaced at half-time as Ireland carried their momentum into the second period.
The hosts took the lead in stunning style soon after the restart when Sean Maguire sent a rocket past Stefan Marinovic, who could do nothing about that strike but made several other fine saves to keep his side in the game.
Both teams rung the changes in the remainder of the match and it was just after a double substitution for the All Whites that Ireland extended their lead with a Callum Robinson header.
There was still time for a further debutant for New Zealand as Elliot Collier entered the fray late on and he nearly joined McCowatt in making a goalscoring introduction but saw his effort saved.
The All Whites will now travel to Vilnius, where they will take on Lithuania in their second and final match of the November window in the early hours of Monday morning (NZT).