Sunday 23 October 2016

John Giles: Even against the worst international keeper I've ever seen, Ireland were lucky to get a point in Serbia

Published 07/09/2016 | 19:43

Robbie Brady, centre, believes Belgrade is a tricky place to go
Robbie Brady, centre, believes Belgrade is a tricky place to go

MARTIN O’Neill thought that Ireland were magnificent to come away from Belgrade with a point. I didn’t. In fact, I would say the opposite.

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Against the worst international goalkeeper I have ever seen and a Serbian team which was very poor, Ireland only played when they had to.

I would almost say that, in the context of this game, Jeff Hendrick’s early goal was the worst thing that could have happened.

The team mindset after the goal went into reverse and I can only put that down to O’Neill.

The players dropped off and handed possession over to Serbia, a team which in my eyes was decent going forward but awful in most other aspects of the game.

They were there to be beaten and that was never more clearly illustrated than in the passage of play late in the game when Ireland were on the front foot and searching desperately for an equaliser.

They got the goal and that was all about heart and commitment. As I’ve always said, that’s the default position for the vast majority of lads who pull on the green shirt.

So why was the approach which secured an equaliser not valid throughout the game and where was the good football Ireland played in France?


I cannot accept the excuse that the pitch made it difficult to play simply because Serbia managed to pass the ball when they were on the front foot, despite the mudbath.

Fortunately, the Serbs were awful at the back when Ireland applied even the slightest pressure and that’s what I saw in the very first minutes of the game.

But Ireland slipped into a pattern we have seen all too often under O’Neill, ceded ground to Serbia and lost two goals. It could have been more.

I have always felt that the inconsistencies in O’Neill’s approach to managing Ireland have cost the team and that he almost stumbled upon a formula that works in France.

It did take more than two years for him to reach the point where he felt able to pick the same players for consecutive games but better late than never was my attitude.

Inconsistent selection policy leads to inconsistent performance and there is no argument against the proposition that Ireland have had very distinct highs and lows since he took over the job.

This game against Serbia was a chance to bring the momentum from France into the World Cup qualifying campaign, but I saw very few of the good things that made Euro 2016 a qualified success for O’Neill and Ireland.

Put it this way, this was more like the way the team played against Belgium than they the way they played against Italy.

I saw very little evidence of lessons learned. Ireland continually gave the ball to Serbia after Hendrick scored and had they had a couple more players like Dusan Tadic and Filip Kostic, it could have been a very bad night indeed.

With Austria winning in Georgia, Ireland would have been playing catch-up from the very start and that is never good.

As it was, Serbia did manage to build up a head of steam which threatened to overwhelm Ireland at times and I do give great credit to the players for digging their way out of a bad position late in the game to get the equaliser.

Even then, though, I thought the chance was there to go and win the game, but Ireland ended up hanging on for their lives and could have lost the game in the last few minutes but for heroics from Seamus Coleman.

The manager sets the tone and that is true for a good team and a bad team. O’Neill sets the tone for Ireland.

France killed the myth that Ireland doesn’t have footballers who can get the ball down and play good, controlled, positive football.

Ireland do have players who can play but from what I saw in Belgrade, they weren’t encouraged to do just that.

O’Neill said after the game that  this point could prove vital when the final sums are done in Group D.

That’s a more than glass half full approach. You could just as easily say that the two points dropped will be crucial in the end.

This was a lucky point which should have been three.

Herald Sport

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