Shambolic Ireland outclassed by Mexico in the US
Mexico 3 Ireland 1
AS the half time whistle approached in Meadowlands, the big screens switched to pictures of a delighted competition winning Mexican fan receiving the unusual prize of a power drill.
By that point, his team had already found too many holes.
Three at the back was most certainly not easy for Martin O'Neill's side on a rough night at the Metlife Stadium.
With an experimental team and formation, they were consistently picked open by a slick Mexican outfit that was cheered on by the bulk of the 42,017 crowd at the Metlife Stadium.
A late rally and a goal from sub Stephen Gleeson when Ireland reverted to a more traditional formation masked the story of a grim first hour where Mexico threatened to rack up a number.
It would be a stretch to describe this as a setback in preparations for Sunday week's serious business against Austria at the Aviva Stadium. The personnel will be different and the shape of the side will be too.
O'Neill made it clear beforehand that the result didn't matter to him and reiterated it afterwards with a remarkably upbeat assessment. "I thought it was great preparation," he said, "I'm delighted with the game."
In his eyes, it was about match practice for players that have been on holidays or out of contention.
That said, several Irish players were handed a thankless task with a role in a structure that doesn't really suit them. Natural wingers Daryl Horgan and Callum O'Dowda found themselves in the centre of a 3-5-2 with only Conor Hourihane offering protection and that was a tough shift for the Aston Villa man.
That exposed the three at the back, John Egan, Shane Duffy and Richard Keogh, who seemed unsure of their roles when the Mexicans broke into space and applied pressure.
Mexico were technically better as well as fitter and they were also fielding a strong side whereas only four members of the Irish XI had reached a double figure number of international appearances before this encounter.
They did actually start quite well in a system that allowed attack minded wing backs James McClean and Cyrus Christie to be prominent. David McGoldrick was inches away from providing the perfect cross for striking colleague Daryl Murphy to open the scoring. And a spell of pressure yielded some set piece opportunities.
But it was from one such opening that Mexico broke the deadlock. A short corner and a Christie cross was cleared and green shirts galloped into the space with Irish bodies committed. The impressive Jorge Hernandez swept the ball to the left side where Porto's Jesus Corona was faced by the backtracking Horgan as he entered the penalty area. He skipped around him, left Richard Keogh for dead and found the top corner with a stunning effort.
Granted, it was a superb finish. But the ease with which the opportunity was created was in keeping with the general flow of proceedings. Ireland were fortunate to concede just one more before the interval.
That came from another Hernandez pass into the area that caused confusion with eager skipper McClean caught the wrong side of ex-Arsenal man Carlos Vela and committing a foul that gave the referee a straightforward decision. Raul Jimenez calmly dispatched the resultant penalty.
Duffy was playing his first game since March 4 and it looked like he really needed it with his manager relieved that he lasted the full 90. O'Neill initially persisted with the same system after the break but Duffy was struggling to get a handle on his duties, swiping at clearances and then completely disorientated in the build-up to Mexico's third. .
A fortuitous deflection off O'Dowda did take the ball into the path of sub Oribe Peralta and he was able to clip the ball to the far post where Vela controlled and cheekily paused before applying the final touch.
By that stage, the unofficial 'home' side had already rung the changes and O'Neill eventually followed suit, making five switches and handing debuts to Cork natives Kevin Long and Alan Browne in a reshuffle that eventually led to something approaching a 4-5-1 with Keogh and McClean as full backs. Wes Hoolahan was brought in for Murphy to support McGoldrick and the ship was steadied somewhat.
Ireland duly managed to put a more respectable look on the scoreline when McClean's cross was fluffed by Oswaldo Alanis and another sub, Gleeson, fizzed home a first goal for his country ten years after he made his debut on another American tour.
O'Dowda then threatened to reduce the deficit to the bare minimum with a wonderful solo run at the heart of the Mexican rearguard that was ended by a smart stop from keeper Rodolfo Cota.
The focus quickly switched back to the other end where last ditch Irish defending was required in a series of scrambles that summed up the slightly chaotic nature of a game that was played on a dead playing surface. On the plus side, Darren Randolph got a decent workout after his own period of inactivity.
Ireland were a little sharper in the middle towards the end, with Eunan O'Kane steady in his cameo and Wes Hoolahan aiding ball retention although it helped that Mexican concentration levels dropped in the final minutes. McClean was still tearing down the flank in the dying moments. He created the last chance with a superb delivery that was skied over by McGoldrick.
A defeat by the bare minimum would have flattered Ireland, even though their shot count by the end reached 14 - one short of Mexico's tally. Proof that stats don't always tell the full story.
Ireland: Randolph, Keogh, Duffy, Egan (Long 64); Christie (Browne 73), Horgan (Gleeson 73), Hourihane (O'Kane 64), O'Dowda, McClean; McGoldrick, Murphy (Hoolahan 64)
Mexico: Cota; Salcedo (Layun 45), Reyes, Moreno (Alanis 45), Gallardo; Dos Santos (Pineda 58), Hernandez, Herrera (Peralta 45); Jiminez, Vela (Marquez 68), Corona (Aquino 58)