Brady shines, Long's isolated and a fragile mindset: The good, the bad and the ugly of the draw in Serbia
The Republic of Ireland scrambled a 2-2 draw against Serbia in their opening World Cup qualifier and here is our view on the good, bad and ugly from a bruising battle in Belgrade:
BRADY A SOLID FIT IN THE No.10 JERSEY
Robbie Keane has been the face of Irish football to a worldwide audience for much of the last decade and more, with the iconic No.10 jersey sitting neatly on the broad Dubliner’s shoulders during his record breaking international career.
Finding a suitable candidate to fill that shirt following Keane’s retirement was one of the talking points ahead of this game in Belgrade, with Robbie Brady stepping forward and claiming a shirt that is generally reserved for the star man in any team.
It may be that Brady is asked to resume his role as a make-shift left-back at some stage during this World Cup qualifying push and a No.10 does not generally find himself in such a reserved role, yet Brady has long since become the pivotal man in O’Neill’s line-up with his energy, invention and set-piece delivery identifying him as a match-winner in the making.
Brady’s superb delivery into the box that created Ireland’s early goal highlighted his qualities once again, with Ireland boss Martin O’Neill not alone in questioning why no big-spending Premier League clubs signed this classy operator before last week’s transfer deadline.
SHANE LONG’S HOPELESS CAUSE
Ireland are failing to get the best out of Shane Long’s abilities and will continue to do so unless they change the philosophy and play with a more inventive pulse.
A midfield line-up featuring Glenn Whelan and Jeff Hendrick were pinned back for long periods in the second half as the distance between Long and his nearest team-mate began to widen in a familiar fashion.
Southampton forward Long and the now departed Robbie Keane are used to the lonely front running role, but O’Neill needs to find a way to get his lead striker into the game by getting him the kind of service he thrives on.
That means playing a tall striker like Daryl Murphy alongside him or using the talents of Harry Arter to provide a little guile in an Ireland midfield that seems to struggle to impose any kind of authority in a midfield battle.
Long missed the one big chance that came his way in Belgrade, but he needs more opportunities to make his mark and needs support from his manager and his team-mates to rise to the challenge of becoming Ireland's next great goal scorer.
IRISH MENTALITY EXPOSED AGAIN
Martin O’Neill’s men showed a lack of belief in their ability to win big matches during the Euro 2016 finals and that fragile mentality was evident again on a difficult night in Belgrade.
The early goal served up by Hendrick came courtesy of a huge slice of fortune and that should have propelled Ireland to push on for a victory that could have provided a glorious platform for the World Cup qualifying push.
Yet a second-rate Serbia side that were clearly lacking in confidence in front of a home crowd that were less than enthusiastic in their support were encouraged to come back into the game as Ireland rocked onto the back foot and tried to protect their advantage.
It was only when Serbia turned the game around with two second half goals that Ireland pushed onto the accelerator pedal once again and looked like a team capable of scoring goals once.
Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane was an example of what winning was all about during his glorious career and while the current team lack players of his quality, they also appear to have a negative mindset that is damaging their ambitions.
We saw something similar in the game against Sweden at Euro 2016, with Ireland unable to finish off opponents when they are there for the taking. Believing we are good enough has long been an issue on the international stage and this night confirmed they have not shed that flaky mindset.
Ireland were pretty dreadful for long periods of their qualifier in Belgrade, but their ability to piece together short bursts of attacking impetus saved the day once again as a draw will now be hailed as a decent result against Serbia.
However, we should not hail a solitary point away from home against woeful opposition as a triumph as Serbia were there for the taking in front of a home crowd that couldn’t be bothered to show up and then jeered them off at half-time after a limp display.
Manager O’Neill and his assistant Keane need to embrace the youthful optimism rather than sit back and rely on the old guard of Glenn Whelan and his ilk to grind out results as more will be needed to get Ireland into a top two finish in a competitive World Cup qualifying group that also features Wales and Austria.
A midfield featuring Hendrick and Arter would be more enterprising and while defensive strength is crucial in away games, that famous night against Italy at Euro 2016 confirmed that an Irish team can dream of more than mediocrity, even if we lack the A-list performers of yesteryear.
Six points are now a must in the qualifiers against Georgia and Moldova next month before the big test away in Austria in November.
While this point gives O’Neill’s side hope, they need to discover the killer instinct of winners if they are to have any real hope of claiming a place in the 2018 World Cup finals.
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