Tuesday 22 July 2014

Hints of O’Neill’s new style as Ireland draw a blank in Poland

Poland 0 Ireland 0

Dion Fanning

Published 19/11/2013|21:46

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David Forde, Republic of Ireland, in action against Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
David Forde, Republic of Ireland, in action against Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

If Friday's victory against Latvia was important for showing all that was possible under Martin O'Neill, this scoreless draw in Poznan emphasised that, after all the fuss around his and Roy Keane's appointment, the Ireland manager will have routine weeks too.

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Ireland were always going to come under more pressure against Poland than they had in O'Neill's first game and it was a night for other aspects of football with Paul Green, so often criticised when he was selected by Trapattoni, exceptional in midfield.

If he was watching, Trapattoni might have felt vindicated but there was also plenty of evidence that Ireland plan to move away from his style of football.

O'Neill had stressed that the link between what happened in a friendly game and what had gone on in Ireland's two European Championship matches at the same stadium in 2012 was tenuous at best.

Tricolours hung from many bars in the main square this week but so few Irish fans had made the journey there was almost a flag for every one of them.

O'Neill's arrival had, at least, given a sense of hope again but with ten months until the first qualifier, the game was mainly an opportunity for the manager to learn about his players.

He made seven changes from the team that beat Latvia. Marc Wilson's retention at centre-back was perhaps an indication of some of the early ideas being formed by the manager, although they might not have survived the night as Wilson took the new expansive style too far with some risky play at the back.

Shane Long was alone upfront, with Anthony Stokes behind him while Jonathan Walters captained the side. Ireland played more long balls than they had against Latvia but the general approach from Ireland was the same as they looked to play football when they could and sometimes when they couldn't.

Yet Ireland didn't look daunted. Adam Nawalka is the second Polish manager since the Euros and lost his first game against Slovakia on Friday so Ireland didn't have much to fear. But Poland had Robert Lewandowski, who was welcomed as a returning local hero before the game. Lewandowski scored 32 goals in 58 games for Lech Poznan but Ireland were alert to his constant threat, closing him down in numbers with Green always at hand.

Ireland were treated like returning local heroes too with the home supporters applauding Amhran na bhFiann during the anthems.

This was a different Ireland with McGeady looking transformed, while Green's constant harrying and awareness of the play suggested he will survive into the new era.

Stephen Kelly should have scored after 21 minutes when Ireland repeated the set-piece that brought the opening goal on Friday. This time Walters headed on McGeady's corner but Kelly was standing where Robbie Keane had been and headed the ball into the ground from six yards and the ball bounced over the bar.

Sean St Ledger, who had played only twice this season and not since August, went off injured after 31 minutes, replaced by John O'Shea but Ireland's purpose didn't change as they found space between a casual Polish defence. At times, they were too positive. When the two central midfielders chased forward for a Stokes knock down, one Polish touch had the defence under pressure and O'Shea was booked when he plucked the ball out of the air with his hand as Lewandowski flicked it over his head.

Poland were coming into the game. Jakub Blaszczykowski almost found Lewandowski with a pass from the edge of the box but David Forde collected.

The second half started with Blaszczykowski running through the Irish defence before Kelly, who had given the ball away initially, made a fine tackle to take the ball away.

Ireland continued to attack, but they couldn't score even when substitute James McClean fired a ball across the six-yard box but no Irish forward could get a touch.

Poland were lucky to remain with 11 men, even in a friendly. Michal Pazdan should have been sent off for a high challenge on Walters but was only booked.

The game became stretched as both managers made changes and things became chaotic with David Forde strong when required.  It had been easy to forget that this was just an end-of-year friendly but the last twenty minutes were a reminder.

O'Neill and Keane won't have forgotten although they looked anxious during the six minutes of injury time, clearly eager not to lose. They have the winter to look at players before the draw for the European Championship qualifiers in February will give them something else to think about.

Ireland: Forde, Kelly, St Ledger, Wilson, Ward, Walters (c), McCarthy, Green, McGeady, Stokes, Long.

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