Friday 28 April 2017

Blunt Ireland fall to home defeat after struggling to break down Iceland

Ireland 0 Iceland 1

Dublin , Ireland - 28 March 2017; Kari Arnason of Iceland in action against John Egan of Republic of Ireland during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and Iceland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Dublin , Ireland - 28 March 2017; Kari Arnason of Iceland in action against John Egan of Republic of Ireland during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and Iceland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The Vikings conquered Ireland again as Iceland won a lacklustre international friendly 1-0 in the Aviva Stadium in Dublin tonight.

Hordur Magnusson's 18th minute goal was the only score of the game as Martin O'Neill opted to experiment in a rare, mid-season, friendly.

O'Neill prides himself on his team being well organised at set-pieces, so the gaffer will be annoyed by the Magnusson strike which came from a free-kick at which debutant Conor Hourihane ducked in the wall to allow the ball fly beyond Kieren Westwood in the Irish goal.

It was that one lapse in concentration that can doom you at international level.

Hourihane went on to recover and play well, as did Johnny Hayes of Aberdeen, who was making his first Irish start on the night.

But it was only the 70th minute arrival of one of the seasoned crew, Shane Long, that sparked a bit of life into the Irish side.

Ireland pressed for the equaliser - but no clear cut chance ensued. Indeed there was the dispiriting sight of Long being the only Irish player in Iceland's half of the pitch with a minute of injury time already played.

Cyrus Christie confirmed what we knew about him before the game, that he is a good attacking option going forward. But the Derby County defender is vulnerable when near his own goal. Three times in the first 20 minutes he gave the ball away cheaply to the visitors. In a more pressure cooker situation than this game, such as when David Alaba and Austria are in town in ten weeks time, that can be costly.

O'Neill made six second half changes in all and that tears the heart out of a game. He had to give time on the pitch to players who had been travelling with the squad for recent matches but that did deaden the entertainment factor.

Did the boss learn much?

I suspect not. Nobody who wasn't already a starter, Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, James McClean, Long, stood out but John Egan, Callum O'Dowda, Hourihane and Hayes did enough to earn a second look - perhaps it will come in the game in New York in early June. It's all they can hope for after this. 

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