Friday 22 September 2017

Negative tactics will play into Armenia's hands

Planning for a stalemate could backfire against dangerous opponents,

writes Richard SadlierIt's all come down to this. Having effortlessly dispatched one of the poorest teams they are ever likely to play, anything but defeat to Armenia will put Ireland in the play-off draw. All things considered, it's a position everyone should be delighted with.

Unlike so many previous occasions, the preparation has been unusually subdued and without incident. There was nothing new learned on Friday in Andorra, thankfully, in what was a thoroughly comfortable win against truly awful opposition. With the exception of an embarrassing yellow card for Stephen Ward for which he must now serve a suspension, the night went according to plan.

The decision to leave out Seamus Coleman altogether was a puzzle, but it was never going to matter against the lowest-ranked nation in world football. One thing is for sure, though, there will be a lot less room for error on Tuesday.

The temptation to play for a draw against Armenia is there. I have never been in a position where I've had to follow those instructions and would be greatly concerned if that was the plan. Running down the clock when the scoreline is satisfactory is something every player has done, but it is difficult to do from the kick-off. And it's particularly tough when you're set up to play the majority of the game without the ball. Giovanni Trapattoni says he's playing to win, but he was hardly going to admit to anything else. From what we've seen from him to date, though, I'm more than a little concerned.

Planning for a clean sheet will not be enough. While we have shown how competent we are defensively, Armenia have scored 11 goals in their last three games. We know too much about Trapattoni's mindset to expect any change in his approach, so the lack of creativity and guile in this team will surely strengthen the self-belief of what must be a very confident Armenian side. The Slovakians and Russians highlighted recently the predictability of Ireland's style and this Armenia team look more than capable of exposing it.

Predictability in itself is not a weakness, but an inability to keep possession of the ball clearly is.

With only one game to go, the assessment of the campaign so far has to be largely positive. Though there have been umpteen signs of mismanagement and confusion along the way, this Ireland team has developed into an organised and hard-working group, many of whom may see this as their last chance of appearing in the finals of a European Championship. The disappointments experienced along the way have been forgotten, but a repeat of last month's performance against Slovakia will put an end to our campaign.

Despite the progress that has no doubt been made since his arrival, a defeat should spell the end of Trapattoni's reign and would be a devastating blow to the senior players so deserving of an appearance in the finals next summer. Those who defend his methods point incessantly to his ability to get results, but finishing outside the top two in this group would put an end to any reasonable calls for him to remain in charge.

A big crowd will certainly help, but an overly cautious approach from an incredibly conservative coach could make for frustrating viewing indeed.

As ever though, the result is the only thing that matters and a clean sheet will be more than enough. Put in those terms, there can be no question the right man's in charge for this one. Cause for great optimism may be in short supply from what we have seen recently, but there are certainly grounds for hope.

If ever there was an occasion to expect a large crowd this is it. The reasons for poor attendances in recent fixtures at the Aviva has been attributed to many things, but failure by the Irish public to fill the stadium for an important occasion would be a sorry indictment indeed.

There can be no finger-pointing at the FAI, the economy or the tactics. There has never been a need to justify support for the Ireland team on the big occasions before. There shouldn't be in this case either.

rsadlier@independent.ie

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