Overnight miracle not evident for Trap debut
Portimonense 1 Ireland 1
THE religious amongst you -- or even those others who are not -- will be familiar with the repetitive hymn 'He Is Lord', which got an airing yesterday with the Italian taking the role of Jesus, rising from the dead amid a plethora of bowed knees and confessing tongues to save us all.
As the man himself took the opportunity to say earlier on in the week -- Trapattoni that is, not God -- he is no saint and won't be performing miracles overnight. This Irish team will not suddenly become a terrifying force; the road to progress will be gradual and requires further endeavour on the training ground.
Still, this friendly game with Portuguese Second Division side Portimonense gave the 69-year-old an early opportunity to see if some of the points he has been trying to get across in the past four days have hit home.
The verdict? It's probably going to take a little bit longer to fully implement what he wants. That was the resounding tone of the comments of both the manager and his players who spoke in the aftermath of a 1-1 draw where either side could have won it -- substitute Andy Keogh was on target to equalise for the Irish after they went in one goal behind at the interval.
He was one member of the bench who consistently got a tutorial from an irate Trapattoni in the first-half, responding to everything he was unhappy with by turning around to his youthful subs with his arms expressively explaining his observations.
It wasn't clear if he was looking for a response, or if anyone was brave enough to offer it. By all accounts, his actions are speaking louder than his words at this juncture in the 'getting to know you' process.
"Football is one language and you get the gist of what he's saying in terms of what he wants us to do," said Stephen Hunt. "But it will take time for us to get used to it too. Obviously Liam (Brady) is there to help him if needs be."
Much of the interest surrounding this game, and indeed the Trapattoni regime as a whole, is speculation over the various formations that he might deploy. From the outset though, it was a relatively rigid 4-4-2 here, although he later said that wasn't the plan. Frontmen Kevin Doyle and Daryl Murphy were not operating as flexibly as he would have preferred.
Only five defenders have made this journey, with Kevin Foley sitting out this game as Stephen Kelly at right-full, Damien Delaney on the opposite flank and Alex Bruce and Paul McShane in the centre played all 90 minutes, with the latter pair failing to convince as a partnership.
In midfield, Liam Miller and Martin Rowlands started in the engine room, with Hunt on the left and Damien Duff on the right. Alas, the Newcastle man hasn't had much luck with black and white stripes, the chosen strip of yesterday's opposition.
He was withdrawn at the interval, not feeling 100pc fit according to Trapattoni. In fact, it was the least heralded of that quartet, QPR man Rowlands, who shone, although he did concede the needless foul which led to Portimonense's Gonzalo drilling an early free-kick through the wall and past the returning 37-year-old Dean Kiely.
Such concessions are clearly the little details to which the new gaffer keeps referring. Afterwards, in a cramped room above the dressing rooms in the compact stadium, he delved into an early analysis of his charges. It's not their mentality that needs changing, he explained, it's their habits.
"I don't want to change their mentality," he said. "I like their mentality. But it's important to correct the younger players on basic mistakes, there is room for improvement in this respect. There are 7,000 square metres on the pitch and we need to use the space.
"There are some old habits which may need twitching", he continued, before expanding on this area with the use of water bottles to emphasise his point. "We need to be able to change the direction of attack, to find the player in space rather than running straight at the defence.
"A few times today we had the possibility to pass the ball but we tended to go one on one. Sometimes, the strikers are in too straight a line. They can go 4-4-1-1 rather than 4-4-2."
So is that why he appeared so wound up during the game? He smiles before answering.
"I clarify things for the players, I play with them. I have to help them. Go! Now! Quickly!" he says, raising his voice slightly, to bemused stares.
"For example a player is looking down at the ground from a throw in. I shout 'Turn and look at the ball'. There isn't money on the pitch. Keep your eyes on the ball. You can improve your position immediately if you keep your eye on the ball. What is there to look at on the pitch? Grass?"
They will be the fundamental lessons to be learned in training this morning, ahead of another useful match tonight against Lagos at 8pm. It'll be another day spent with his players who now accept that this is a very different environment compared to what they're used to.
"He's trying to change the mentality in terms of the way we play, bits and pieces," said Hunt, when asked about the behind-closed-doors training sessions. "We're all learning and it will be a different way of playing, that's for sure, we'll be hard to beat.
"I don't want to say too much as I'll get myself in trouble. You'll figure it out for yourselves. And it will take time, a new manager and a new style and a new regime, it's fresh."
Alex Bruce was a little bit more straightforward in his analysis: "He's just big on the organisation of the team and making sure that everyone knows our jobs, you don't win what he has won in the game if you don't know what you are about."
Goalscorer Keogh was singing from a similar hymnsheet, acknowledging that the wide players, a position he often fills for Ireland and Wolves, will have to shoulder significant responsibility in a typical Trap system.
"He wants the wingers coming in and helping the forward, but he wants us to track back to try and get the ball when opposition wingers have it," stressed the Wolves star, whose equalising goal was a close-range volley in the 49th minute.
"It's really a case of getting used to his strategies and formations. He wants us to press and play a high intensity game and also to let the ball do the work, one touch, two touch. But it's still early days."
Early days indeed, and both the new boss and the squad know that there's still plenty of work left to do.
Ireland: Kiely (Murphy 62); Kelly, McShane, Bruce, Delaney, Duff (Keogh 45), Miller (Whelan 71), Rowlands (Potter 73), Hunt (Hoolahan 71); Doyle (Scannell 75), Murphy (Long 57).