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Friday 22 August 2014

Five things we learned from Serbian defeat

Published 06/03/2014 | 10:09

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Martin O'Neill will have plenty of food for thought following last night's defeat.
Martin O'Neill will have plenty of food for thought following last night's defeat.

What we learned from the first defeat of the Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane era at the hands of Serbia.

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Reality check

After great fanfare with the managerial appointment and two comfortable games against Poland and Latvia, this was a little sobering against more formidable opposition.

The Serbians are ranked 29th in the world and while they made a sluggish start, that extra bit of class was telling in the second half in particular.

As ever with the team, there can be few questions over the work-rate in the team, but at times composure and that extra bit of quality was absent from the home side's play.

A crowd of 37, 595 spectators showed the willingness to get behind the boys in green, but the game served as a reminder that there is a lot of work ahead for Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane to put their stamp on this team.

Possession

A feature of the Trap era was the inability to hold onto the ball, regardless of the calibre of opposition. After a lacklustre beginning, Serbia grew into the game and after the interval were vastly superior at retaining possession than the boys in green.

Glenn Whelan faded in the middle of the park after a bright opening and we lost even more shape after James McCarthy left the field in the second half amid a flurry of substitutes introduced.

This was never something that was going to disappear overnight, though it was disappointing to see the Irish team struggle so badly in the final 20 minutes to string together meaningful passes in the Serbian half.

The continued use of Wes Hoolahan, who will seek the ball on every occasion, will help but it is an area that will need vast improvement.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Robbie Keane has had his fair share of critics throughout his career, which have become vocal in more recent seasons, but you don’t become a record goalscorer without a clinical touch.

Last night Shane Long showed great endeavour and got the home side off the mark, but he fluffed two excellent chances to add to his tally with just the goalkeeper to beat.

The Hull striker admitted to being frustrated with his inaccuracy in front of goals which was one of the major talking points from last night and it will merely strengthen the argument that the LA Galaxy striker still remains our more potent threat up front.

Shaky defence

It seems highly unlikely that a back four of Ward, Keogh, Wilson and Coleman will play too many competitive games together barring injury, but they looked far from assured last night when given the chance to shine.

The quartet can point to unfamiliarity with each other, but Wilson did little to push his cause as a potential centre-back of note while Coleman had his poorest display in a green jersey.

The Everton man was prominent early on and made some blistering runs down the flank, but defensively he was caught out on a number of occasions, particularly the second goal.

He will put this game to bed quickly, but rest assured O'Neill, a manager who places a huge emphasis on defensive solidity, will not be overly pleased with what he witnessed last night.

Hoolahan’s creative spark

Giovanni Trapattoni was never convinced of what the Norwich man could provide in an Ireland jersey, but Wes Hoolahan illustrated last night that he has the creativity that has been clearly missing in recent times.

He created the opening goal of the night and had Shane Long his scoring boots on he may have added to Hoolahan's assist tally on the night.

His precision passing and razor sharp vision will be invaluable as Ireland look to unlock defences and despite reservations from the previous management, was busy throughout even without possession of the ball.

Declan Whooley

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