Thursday 23 February 2017

Steven Reid: We can head to Austria full of confidence after passing two tricky qualifying tests

McClean comes of age as we again proved that we can win games ugly

Steven Reid

Steven Reid

James McCarthy (L) Glenn Whelan (C) and Shane Duffy react after
conceding to Moldova during last night’s game DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE
James McCarthy (L) Glenn Whelan (C) and Shane Duffy react after conceding to Moldova during last night’s game DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE

This felt like a big moment in James McClean's career. Just when we were crying out for someone to step up to the mark, James popped up with two crucial goals that will have done wonders for his confidence.

It's the one thing that has probably been missing with James. He knows himself that he should score more goals and provide more assists.

I think he's starting to do that now. We've always had our talisman in Robbie Keane but now it's up to others to chip in when it matters most.

James knows that nowadays he is one of the first names on Martin's team-sheet. It's always difficult when you're in and out of the side.

It's a position that we haven't been sure of who Martin is going to go with over the last couple of years but James has made it his own.

He gives us natural width and it looks to me like James feels that he belongs at this level and that will only benefit us going forward.

Honest

These kind of games can be tricky but to be honest, last night's didn't seem all that intimidating. It's a small stadium and you couldn't really say that it was the most hostile of environments to play in.

The early goal settled us down very quickly. We looked bright in possession and were well on the front foot.

Wes almost had a free role with the security of James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan starting behind. Wes thrives in that role and he was a bright spark every time he got on the ball.

He can do things that other players in the side can't and his vision in the build-up to Longy's goal was brilliant. It's the kind of creativity that we often lack but Wes brings that to the side when he plays.

That was a hugely important goal for Longy. It was a long time coming but it will have done wonders for his confidence.

It was interesting to see the change at the end. Wes was a little bit sloppy in possession at the end and one or two flicks didn't come off. You could see the reaction of Martin on the sideline.

He wasn't happy and a couple of minutes later Wes is subbed off for O'Kane. The manager has a big decision to make for Austria next month but there's no doubting the fact that Wes gives us that creative spark.

It's the kind of dilemma that Martin will want and even with Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick to come back, I thought Glenn Whelan was fantastic. He didn't give the ball away and was disciplined in his role in front of the back four.

The equaliser knocked the stuffing out of us and you could see that in the way we started the second half. We were suddenly far more nervous and it looked like players were second-guessing each other.

Conceding a goal that close to half-time is unforgivable. We dominated the first half and should have scored more than one goal but you have to maintain your concentration for the full 90 minutes.

Even against the likes of Moldova, if you switch off for a second at this level, you will get punished.

Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark had to see it through to the break but instead we were left facing a nervy second half. There was a glaring lack of communication between the two.

Clark stepped in when he shouldn't have and Duffy got caught in a one-on-one.

Both of the lads have gone for big price-tags in the summer and they both seem to be favourites of Martin O'Neill but we saw their lack of experience at this level.

They should have dropped off a little bit and not defended so high. It's having that experience of knowing when to stay two versus one. It's basic defending and Duffy and Clark still have a lot to learn.

To be fair, you would expect nothing less but we looked like favourites. We showed that we had more quality and the lads dealt with the favourites' tag much better than they did against Georgia.

It created an unnecessary nervous tension and that continued into the early stages of the second half but we rallied well.

I wrote about it after the game on Thursday but Seamus Coleman's influence was massive for us. He is relishing the captaincy role and it was noticeable how much he was barking orders at those around him.

Seamus is demanding certain standards of the lads and that is what you want from your skipper.

You could see by some of the results over the last week that there are plenty of slip-ups in international football but we passed two tricky tests. It's all well and good calling games 'easy' but I don't think there is any such thing.

Wales dropped two big points at home to Georgia while our point in Serbia looks even better now after Austria left there empty-handed.

We have shown an ability to win games ugly and that is a great trait to have. It's something that Martin has definitely brought to the group.

In previous years, last night's game is the kind of one that we might have allowed peter out but we dug in when we needed to.

Picking up six points from these two games was absolutely imperative. We got the job done, now we need to take this momentum to Vienna.

Irish Independent

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