Sunday 22 October 2017

Christie fails to grasp chance to stake his claim to fill Coleman's boots

Cyrus Christie in action against Elias mar Omarsson. Photo: Sportsfile
Cyrus Christie in action against Elias mar Omarsson. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

There was a telling moment in Monday's briefing with Martin O'Neill when he was asked if he felt Cyrus Christie was the man to fill Seamus Coleman's boots.

An unenviable task of course, particularly when O'Neill went on to describe his skipper as "one of the best full-backs in Europe", but rather than stress that it is now Christie's jersey to lose, the manager made it abundantly clear that it was far from a foregone conclusion.

David Meyler has done a job for Ireland at right back in the past but Christie also has credit in the bank, especially after his impressive performance against Germany on that famous night two years ago when Coleman missed out.

"I haven't really given it a great deal of thought," O'Neill told us, evidently still irked by losing Coleman in the manner that he did.

"Cyrus is a very good player, very talented and strong going forward. It's really up to him. I think he's capable of taking that step and the times he's played for us before, he's done well. He's made a contribution and it's up to him now."

O'Neill laid down the challenge to Christie and on his first audition against Iceland, his performance didn't exactly inspire much confidence.

There is of course only so much O'Neill can learn from a friendly that saw both teams make a combined 16 changes from their World Cup qualifiers in previous days but for a player who had the chance to make the jersey his own, he left O'Neill with a decision to make come the visit of Austria in June.

There are some concerns over Christie's defensive capability when it comes to this level and on the rare occasions he was tested, he didn't look that comfortable.

Five minutes before the break, he was caught out of position badly and was lucky that Aron Sigurdarson headed a weak effort straight at Keiren Westwood.

Against better opposition, it was a chance that might well have tested the keeper and it is little things like Christie's positional awareness that O'Neill will be eager for him to tighten up over the coming months.

The lack of intensity ran through the Irish side like a rampant malaise and unlike Friday night's battle with Wales, there could be no excuse as Iceland hardly provided the same kind of high-tempo pressing game.

Christie was as guilty as the next man for not wanting to get on the ball and although he did improve as the game wore on, the Derby County defender need only have looked to his left to see John Egan's eagerness to impress.

Granted, Egan gave away a silly free-kick that led to the only goal of the game, but the Cork native played as if last night mattered and that he had a point to prove.

Playing behind Aiden McGeady, Christie did link well with the winger a couple of times in the first half but he lacked the crucial final ball. Midway through the opening 45, Christie was played into a decent position but his weak left-footed cross in many ways typified up his subdued evening.

It didn't get much better for the 24-year old shortly after the restart when his nemesis Sigurdarson easily dispossessed him. A minute later, however, Christie did put a terrific cross into the box after a strong run down the right flank.

It was a busy couple of minutes for Christie who began the half as if O'Neill had demanded more from him but when he went to the ground clutching his ankle, for a couple of seconds, the manager must have wondered if some sort of right-back curse had struck.

Christie had a problem with his ankle last year but he bounced back to his feet just in time for Sigurdarson to again get the better of him before putting in an inviting cross.

O'Neill's message prior to the game was clear but Christie's performance hardly left him without any doubt as to who will replace Coleman for the foreseeable future. The Ireland boss has two more opportunities in June to blood others at right back before Austria arrive in Dublin on the 11th of the same month.

Based on last night's evidence, Christie will wonder if he could have done more to ensure that he is the one starting in that crucial World Cup qualifier.

Irish Independent

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