Brady experiment working and miracles required – Five things we learned from Scotland draw
Here is what we learned from the disappointing 1-1 draw with Scotland at the Aviva Stadium.
We need a miracle to make France
Scotland celebrated at the final whistle because they knew this result was of greater use to their French ambitions. Ireland cannot expect to qualify for major tournaments unless they can beat their main rivals at home and a two point return from the visits of Poland and the Scots means that fortune and favours will be required to even make the playoffs.
Put simply, Ireland need one of those teams to collapse in September. The most plausible route - and it remains a long shot - is Scotland dropping points in Georgia and then flopping against Germany and the Poles.
They will beat Gibraltar on the last day; if they take two points from the other three matches then eight points from Ireland’s final four encounters will be enough to creep in ahead of Gordon Strachan’s charges.
Ireland always go back to basics
Wes Hoolahan offered glimpses of invention and creativity, especially with his break and threaded through ball for Daryl Murphy immediately after Scotland’s equaliser.
However, when it came to the crunch, the Irish tactic was to get as many crosses in the box as possible and hope for the best with Murphy, Walters and then Shane Long hoping to get on the end of them or flick the ball in the direction of Robbie Keane. By the end it was laboured and predictable, with the visiting rearguard capable of dealing with every missile.
Hoolahan’s withdrawal with 18 minutes remaining was baffling. Scotland knew exactly what was coming next.
Martin O’Neill doesn’t trust Shane Long
The Tipp lad was given the call for last November’s loss in Glasgow and, clearly, an ineffective display planted a seed of doubt with O’Neill even though he was the hero in March with his late cameo against the Poles.
Long was unhappy to miss out on a start against England last week and didn’t look himself when he was sprung at the break. It was enough to consign him to a spectating brief for 79 minutes here.
The 28-year-old had his problems with Giovanni Trapattoni and the outlook doesn’t look any better in this regime.
O’Neill still doesn’t know what his best side is
A pattern appeared to be developing in the build-up to this crucial fixture, yet there was still a surprise as O’Neill abandoned wingers and went with a narrow set-up in midfield that was high on physicality and quite effective for most of the first half.
Unfortunately, it ran out of steam quickly when Scotland levelled things and the substitutions failed to work the oracle with the arrival of McClean offering width on one side - but Ireland ended up looking quite scattered and there was an absence of fluidity.
Nineteen months after his appointment, we still don’t know what to expect when the Derryman puts in his team sheet.
The Brady experiment at left back is a good one
When O’Neill assumed control, left back was a problem position. With Marc Wilson part of his central defensive vision, his only option was Stephen Ward - a player who has endured a difficult run at club level and barely played any football this term.
In Robbie Brady, he has found a solution despite some growing pains in the March draw with Poland. Now that it’s out of the system, the talented Dubliner is adjusting to the responsibilities that come with the role and the fact that he’s on the pitch to offer set piece prowess is a major bonus.
His emergence is one of the few positives from 2015.