Saturday 23 September 2017

Moldovan weaknesses should allow Ireland to complete six-point mission

Jonathan Walters (C) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from a penalty during a UEFA Euro 2016 Group D qualifying second leg play-off football match between Ireland and Bosnia Herzegovina at the Aviva stadium in Dublin on November 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Jonathan Walters (C) celebrates after scoring his team's first goal from a penalty during a UEFA Euro 2016 Group D qualifying second leg play-off football match between Ireland and Bosnia Herzegovina at the Aviva stadium in Dublin on November 16, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PAUL FAITHPAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It might fit the criteria for the stereotypical 'tough place to go' but there is a shortage of recent evidence to back up the point that Moldova is a tough place to win in.

Serbia secured a comfortable 3-0 win there on Thursday evening and this follows on from a Euro 2016 campaign where the natives of Chisinau watched their side lose all five home games to finish bottom of their group behind Liechtenstein.

Granted, the minnows did somehow nab a draw away in Russia and gave Austria two good matches, points which Martin O'Neill can home in on as he embarks on the usual process of talking up the opposition ahead of the first ever senior meeting of the nations.

Similar to Thursday's struggle past Georgia, though, this game can only be described as a match that Ireland have to win if they want to feature at the business end of the wide-open Group D.

Moldova have conceded seven without reply in two matches and the former Russian state is not blessed with star players.

Still, Ireland's performance against Georgia was short on star quality aside from Seamus Coleman's match-winning run and the loss of Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady weakens O'Neill's hand.

The players accepted that the first half was poor on Thursday. "It was very flat," said Jonathan Walters. "I don't know why and we had a right go at each other at half-time and the manager said a few words and I thought we were much better in the second half."

Hassling

Certainly, Ireland did briefly push up and apply some pressure on the Georgians. Indeed, the genesis of Coleman's goal was Hendrick hassling an opponent and forcing them to punt the ball back to Ireland with the skipper taking over from there.

Two of Serbia's three goals in Chisinau did actually come from Moldova losing possession when operating a high defensive line. The other came from a routine set-piece.

This is a game where Shane Long could thrive if he is fully fit and recovered from the muscle injury that caused him to limp off in the dying seconds at the Aviva.

Ireland's only attack-orientated options on the bench were Wes Hoolahan and Jonny Hayes with Callum O'Dowda and Adam Rooney left in the stands.

The loss of Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick weakens the midfield and with Harry Arter injured, the percentage call is that Glenn Whelan and Hoolahan will come into the side.

McCarthy prefers the holding role in front of the back four but he may have to take on a more advanced berth unless O'Neill has an alternative plan. A second game in a short period coming off a lay-off will test the Glaswegian.

James McClean's energy was a strong point on Thursday and he will be crucial here in ensuring that Ireland start in the right way.

"We can't allow 15 or 20 minutes to disappear in a game and be second best because, you know, we didn't recover well enough," said O'Neill, conceding that Georgia were superior before the break.

"You can go a period where the other team have the ball, that's fine but we couldn't get close enough to them and that seven minutes became 10, 12, 14. Next thing you know I'm delighted to get in at half-time because they couldn't get it in front. I felt we'd turn it around in the second half and we did do."

Walters will also be central to a positive approach having spent a portion of the Georgian encounter engaged in defensive duties on the right side. He did link up with Coleman for the winner.

He was looking on the bright side of the hard-fought winning start to the double-header. "We made amends and got the three points," stressed the Stoke man, the only thirtysomething in the starting XI from that fixture.

"We could have been sitting here with a draw or a defeat and it would have been pretty dismal. I don't think it's ever straightforward. The last campaign had twists and turns.

"Hopefully we'll get lots of positive results and keep ourselves right up there. We've got to stay in with a shout and just grind results out."

Ireland should be well capable of completing a six-point week. But there may be a shortage of pretty pictures for the postcard.

Irish Independent

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