Wes Hoolahan pole vaults into contention
Ireland 2 Poland 0
THE outcome of this game provides further evidence that Giovanni Trapattoni's better results as Irish manager tend to come in hostile territory.
On a night where the Polish dominated crowd made this feel like an away fixture, Trapattoni's men drew on some of the attributes that have contributed to the happier experiences of his tenure. In the first half, in particular, they showed plenty of endeavour and occasionally rode their luck.
After the break, however, there was something a little bit different, a spark provided by the introduction of Wes Hoolahan and debutant Jeff Hendrick. Together, they combined to build on Ciaran Clark's opener and put a favourable gloss on the scoreline. Now, Trap must decide where goalscorer Hoolahan fits into his plans for next month's trip to Stockholm. Is there room for him in a side including Robbie Keane?
It is a question that Trapattoni will have to get used to fielding. His gut feeling appears to be still with a two-striker approach, yet he acknowledged that Hoolahan has given him food for thought.
"Maybe we have overlooked him," said Trapattoni. "He gives us a good tactical option. I thought we needed two strikers with our teams. Maybe against a strong team we can think about his solution."
David Forde has an excellent chance of starting though, with the 73-year-old content with his new number one who grew into this occasion after a shaky opening, comments that could also apply to Clark and Greg Cunningham who are on standby for Sweden if a raft of defensive injuries fail to clear up.
Understandably, Trapattoni was a happy man. His reputation has been built on results and while some old failings were visible here, this team looked a far more organised unit than the rabble which was dismantled by an admittedly far superior German outfit.
Poland are no mugs, of course. Although they also struggled in Euro 2012, they have some decent performers in their ranks, most notably star striker Robert Lewandowski who arrived in Dublin this week under the shadow of speculation that he will leave Borussia Dortmund in the summer to join the Pep Guardiola project at Munich.
Lewandowski gave John O'Shea and Clark constant headaches. His pace caught out O'Shea and in a competitive game the referee might have punished the subsequent foul with a yellow card.
It summed up the pattern of the game at that juncture, with Poland generally sharper in possession. By contrast, when Ireland got into reasonable situations, they anxiously parted with the ball. James McClean and Shane Long were both guilty of poorly executed crosses. "We were tense," said Trapattoni. "We gave away the ball many times."
The most alarming moment, however, came from a rash swing of Forde's right boot. The Millwall netminder was seriously under the spotlight here given Trapattoni's comments about his new status earlier in the week. After collecting a routine backpass from O'Shea, he kicked the ball straight at Ludovic Obraniak whose effort was deflected to safety. Later in the half, Forde was guilty of a similar aberration, yet redeemed himself with a fine stop from the Lewandowski volley that followed.
That was the story of Forde's half with the rocky moments combined with some decent shot-stopping. He was winning his personal battle with Lewandowski, racing from his goal to deny the 24-year-old when he breached the Irish offside trap in a move that emanated from a Paul McShane error.
Just as Poland appeared to sense Irish vulnerability, their own defensive frailties were exposed 10 minutes short of the break as the hosts grabbed the lead. McClean's endeavour won a corner on the left and his delivery caused problems in the box with Clark nodding towards Long who was brilliantly denied by Artur Boruc and then jabbed the rebound into the path of Jakub Wawrzyniak. His goalline clearance could only find Clark who slotted into the net.
For Trapattoni, the issue was that as his players started to warm into the game, it was interval time and therefore the signal for the half-time changes that were flagged beforehand. He decided to continue with just one change. Paul Green didn't make the original squad, but he was called in to replace Glenn Whelan; sometimes, it seems as though Trapattoni forgets how much he rates the Leeds man until he sees him in the flesh. He will like him even more as the midfielder dug in to reasonable effect.
James McCarthy, who worked hard despite being outnumbered, forced a save from sub-keeper Wojciech Szczesny just after the restart, while Connor Sammon really should have capitalised on a Damien Perquis howler but lacked composure and the moment was gone.
As the hour mark passed, Trapattoni pleased the natives by introducing Hoolahan for Long. He was keen to see the Norwich star link up with Sammon, but the midfield also welcomed his support. The manager then opted to refresh that department with Jeff Hendrick winning a first cap, in place of McCarthy, and Jon Walters coming in for the subdued Brady; the latter switch smacked of a rehearsal for next month's qualifiers.
What followed was the other substitutes making a case for their deployment in that fixture. Hendrick is an assured operator and calmly converted a skied Polish clearance when others might have flapped. He controlled with his chest and glanced to the left side of the Polish box where Hoolahan had slipped into space. The execution was perfect and so was the control from the 30-year-old with his resultant shot taking a slight nick from a Polish player on its way to the bottom corner. It was a sweet moment for a player who has waited too long for this stage.
That knocked the wind out of Polish sails and the Irish bench sent Simon Cox and Richard Keogh into the fray with the result safe. A rendition of the 'Fields of Athenry' reflected the change in mood and the final whistle was greeted by Irish cheers. Now to bring the momentum to the defining tests that lie ahead.
Game at a glance
From an Irish point of view, goalkeeper David Forde saved our blushes with some fine reaction saves, especially in the first half, when Poland dominated. His only blemish was a botched clearance but he got away with it. Did well considering the defence let the Poles see the white of his eyes a little too often for comfort.
Wes Hoolahan's goal which put the Irish 2-0 up with 15 minutes to go. He was only on the pitch 13 minutes when he showed his class by taking a cross on his chest and hitting the net with a super shot from his trusty left foot. Now that's how you give a manager selection problems!
Once the final whistle blew on this game, the countdown to March and the two key World Cup games against Sweden and Austria began in earnest. This match gave some of younger element a useful 90 minutes but when the crunch comes, how many will he trust?
Sebastien Delferiere from Belgium was competent but ought to have booked Poland's Kamil Glik before the defender perpetrated yet another studs-up foul.
Giovanni Trapattoni has been notching up the air miles since he got the 'see more matches' message from the FAI before Christmas and the side had a fresh look with messrs Sammon, Brady, Clark, McCarthy, Cunningham and, of course, McClean on show. He has some extra food for thought over the next few weeks before the serious action resumes in March.
Which team was at home? Red and white everywhere, including a group of Poles proudly bearing a huge flag with 'Ballina Mayo' emblazoned on it. Another squad of west of Ireland Polish fans brandished a 'Sligo' flag. The Irish responded well – a great atmosphere for a friendly game but the opposition fans shaded the exchanges.
Frees: Ireland 11 (5 first half ); Poland 14 (8 first half)
Corners: Ireland 2 (1) ; Poland 8 (6)
Offsides: Ireland 0; Poland 2
Penalties: Ireland 0; Poland 0
Yellow cards: Ireland 1 (0) (McCarthy 61). Poland 2 (1) (Glik, 43; Obraniak, 56).
Red cards: Ireland 0; Poland 0