Thursday 30 March 2017

Hard to draw any conclusions from Oman destruction

Ireland 4 Oman 0

Robbie Keane celebrates after scoring his 68th and final goal for Ireland. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Robbie Keane celebrates after scoring his 68th and final goal for Ireland. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Ireland fans will never see Robbie Keane on the pitch again and hopefully they won't see Oman again either.

Martin O'Neill's side efficiently tore apart sub-standard opposition in an occasion that offered a complete contrast to what they will encounter in Belgrade on Monday.

Republic of Ireland's Stephen Quinn in action against Oman's Yaseen Khalil Abdallah Al Shyadi. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Stephen Quinn in action against Oman's Yaseen Khalil Abdallah Al Shyadi. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

That will be an intense affair in an intimidating atmosphere which should lead to a tight game. All those elements were absent from this encounter. It was just too easy.

Still, O'Neill will have taken some positives from the run-out, with a brace for Jon Walters putting him in pole position for the serious business after a Euros that was ruined by injury.

"I think you can see that a fit Jon is still a big asset for us," said the Irish boss, who confirmed that he has yet to sign a new contract but is relaxed about the situation.

"The FAI are still paying me," he smiled.

Republic of Ireland's Jon Walters retains possession against Oman's Eid Mohammed Al Farsi. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Jon Walters retains possession against Oman's Eid Mohammed Al Farsi. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

Another of the plus points was laced with a degree of frustration.

On the day that Jeff Hendrick completed his first move to the Premier League, Robbie Brady showed the quality which should have convinced suitors to dig deep into their pockets this summer.

High-class left-sided players are generally hot commodities and Brady demonstrated his range in that department with a top-drawer goal and an assist before the interval.

A foul on Walters presented a free-kick on the edge of the box that the Norwich employee calmly curled over the wall and into the top corner.

Republic of Ireland celebrate after their third goal. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland celebrate after their third goal. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

With his brilliant conversion, Brady became the first Irish player to score in three consecutive internationals since Keane in the summer of 2011.

This affair was all about the other Robbie - it was unavoidable in the first half where the Irish desire to get him on the scoresheet reached farcical levels.

Even the man of the moment was animated when Walters passed up a straightforward opportunity to convert a fumble from Omani 'keeper Faiz Al Rushaidi with Keane taking the free ball from an inferior position and finding his route blocked.

Relief was the prevailing emotion when the skipper, who had just overclubbed a one-on-one, finally registered on the half hour with a goal he effectively created for himself with an intelligent chip over a hapless opponent and a first-time volley.

That confirmed the inevitability of the outcome. The only nervous moment for the hosts came with the concession of three corners in the opening minute with Keiren Westwood called into action with one stop.

Westwood even belted out the anthem beforehand - a new departure - and he had plenty of time to look up some new tunes with action focused at the other end of the park.

Walters registered Ireland's third before the interval when Brady darted forward into space and sent in a searching delivery that was met with a firm header.

With Walters and Long on either side, Keane was free to roam with the sitting Glenn Whelan and the roaming Stephen Quinn and Arter comfortable in the centre.

Predictably, O'Neill rang the changes at the interval with Brady, Whelan and Long preserved with Monday in mind and Darren Randolph taking over from Westwood - O'Neill has challenged Long to step into Keane's shoes and become a more frequent goalscorer.

Concern

Keane's goodbye came before the hour mark in tandem with momentary cause for concern when Walters went down injured. He soldiered on, though, anxious for minutes following a peripheral spell at Stoke.

He finished proceedings wearing a head bandage and added his second in the 63rd minute with Arter picking the lock with a purposeful run and deft left-footed pass.

The Bournemouth midfielder was desperately unlucky to pick up an injury during Ireland's training camp in Cork that prevented him from making it to France.

This will be a big campaign for the 26-year-old, possibly even from Monday with James McCarthy out. O'Neill also likes the industrious Quinn to contribute to tough trips. He was taken off for the final quarter with Callum O'Dowda making his Dublin debut.

Centre-halves Ciaran Clark and Marc Wilson were untested but the latter did go into the book for a rash tackle which highlighted his rustiness.

Jeff Hendrick was part of the half-time reshuffle after securing a £10.5m move but his wait for a first international strike goes on.

Al-Rushaidi was able to leave the stadium with a positive memory as his strong hand pushed a close-range attempt to safety.

The Premier League recruit can save his breakthrough for when it really matters.

Ireland - Westwood 6 Christie 7, Wilson 6, Clark, 6 Brady 8 (Ward 45, 6); Whelan 7 (Hendrick 45, 6); Quinn 7 (O'Dowda 65, 6), Arter 8; Walters 8, Keane 7 (Hoolahan 57, 6), Long 6 (McClean 45, 6)

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