Tuesday 6 December 2016

Reasons to be positive for O'Neill despite late concession

Ireland 1 Holland 1

Published 28/05/2016 | 02:30

Netherlands’ Quincy Promes in action as Republic of Ireland’s John O’Shea looks on. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Netherlands’ Quincy Promes in action as Republic of Ireland’s John O’Shea looks on. Photo: John Sibley/Action Images via Reuters
Republic of Ireland's Shane Long celebrates scoring against the dutch on Friday
Netherlands' Quincy Promes and Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman in action. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

It would be an exaggeration to declare that Luuk de Jong's 85th-minute equaliser flattened the mood at the Aviva Stadium because the atmosphere was already surprisingly subdued.

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The volume levels at Ireland's last Dublin game before the European Championships failed to differ dramatically from an average international friendly despite an attendance in excess of 42,000.

That muted end to proceedings should not be confused with a feeling that there was much wrong with the Irish performance. A home win would have been a fair enough outcome against a Dutch side that passed the ball nicely at times without delivering an end product.

However, the surprise absentees from next month's tournament eventually succeeded in mustering up a late rally that secured a draw with De Jong finding gaps in a hitherto solid Irish rearguard to cancel out Shane Long's first-half strike.

Sleepless

Martin O'Neill will hardly endure sleepless nights about that and he seemed content enough afterwards.

By that stage, he had already withdrawn the individuals that were given lengthy auditions with a view to forcing their way into his 23-man squad by Tuesday night.

"Our substitutions maybe disrupted our pattern so maybe there was no surprise there was a goal at the end," he said.

Harry Arter and David McGoldrick were both afforded the opportunity to play themselves into the picture, with Stephen Quinn provided with the chance to stay in it.

They all acquitted themselves reasonably well and, while it would be a stretch to rave about the contribution of Arter, he did enough to worry Darron Gibson, Eunan O'Kane and the absent David Meyler.

"Harry will be around for a long time," said the Irish boss.

McGoldrick, meanwhile, is putting pressure on his mate Daryl Murphy and late arrival Kevin Doyle - with his ability to function as a Wes Hoolahan understudy a string to his bow. "He can offer us something we don't really have," said O'Neill.

The goal which gave Ireland a first-half lead was heavily influenced by McGoldrick with the Ipswich player recovering from a slow start to deliver a key pass as he slotted into Hoolahan's position as the advanced player in the midfield diamond. He found the space in the centre of the park to send a fine right-footed pass in the direction of Seamus Coleman who forced a corner.

Robbie Brady stepped up to produce a menacing left-footed delivery that was headed goalwards by John O'Shea and, while he protested that visiting striker Vincent Janssen had partially used his hand to block on the line, Long reacted smartly to scoop the ball over the line with the help of a nick off the stricken keeper Jasper Cillessen.

It came slightly against the run of play, although Ireland had gradually began to gain a foothold into proceedings after an opening quarter of an hour where orange shirts had dominated.

The combative Quinn and Arter functioned as support for Glenn Whelan and they began to have some joy. Arter tested Cillessen with a deflected strike from a purposeful break, but was later booked after an over-zealous challenge.

Encouragingly for O'Neill, a back four with John O'Shea and Shane Duffy paired in the centre for the first time did not give up any clear chances when the away side were sporadically on top before the break.

The Irish management opted against making any alterations at the interval, an endorsement for those starters that were under the spotlight, and they resumed brightly.

Pressure in the opposition half created positions that allowed Brady to show off his dead ball prowess with Duffy's physical presence a major attribute in the area.

He was off target with one effort and involved in another which culminated with Long nodding over. "They are very dangerous with corners and free-kicks. That's football for them," said Holland boss Danny Blind.

Holland's elaborate build-up was less productive and the frustrating Memphis Depay was replaced on the hour mark after showing off his repertoire of aimless strikes. Blind made changes which he felt brought a greater level of aggression.

Distracted

O'Neill waited 67 minutes before turning to his bench for a treble substitution that brought Jeff Hendrick, James McClean and Gibson into the fray, just as the distracted crowd launched into the cursed Mexican wave.

Long, Quinn and Whelan were withdrawn but the loss of an attacker didn't alter the Irish system. Instead, McClean slotted into Long's shoes.

Wes Hoolahan was next in for the tiring McGoldrick as a purposeful Dutch spell brought Randolph into proceedings.

He was eventually beaten when he emerged from his line for a Jetro Willems cross and De Jong ghosted into the space behind Duffy to dispatch a firm header.

The Blackburn centre-half can comfort himself with the fact that he will be on the plane barring an accident. Some of his midfield colleagues will endure a far more anxious weekend.

Irish Independent

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