Cox helps to steer Ireland down rocky Euro road
CZECH REPUBLIC 1
THE crowd spent the evening crying for fresh blood, but it was two of Giovanni Trapattoni's favourites who rescued a result from an exercise that frustrated for long periods.
James McClean's 10-minute cameo did wonders for the atmosphere at Lansdowne Road, as Ireland's rocky road to Poland threatened to start off with a nasty pothole.
But it was the West Brom pair of Keith Andrews and Simon Cox that saved the day. Andrews, probably Ireland's best performer on the night, showed admirable tenacity to rob the Czechs and tee up an 86th-minute equaliser for the sub Cox, who converted with aplomb.
Ireland finished stronger in a game that Trapattoni certainly approached with a view to rehearsing for the summer. The Czechs were permitted to have the ball for lengthy spells and the fear is that superior sides will do much more with it in June.
Still, while the manager's trademark shortage of experimentation will always have its detractors, the late rally will provide further weight to his argument that results are the bottom line. Ireland are unbeaten in 12 games.
"The results gives us confidence," said Trapattoni afterwards. "They give us security about our system, our mentality, our attitude.
"They are a strong team, and they had more than us in midfield. But I was happy with our reaction to the goal. I think the draw is the right result."
The punters who turned out in reasonable numbers on this February evening would have been initially encouraged. Within a minute, a chance was forged, with an accurate Aiden McGeady cross headed straight at Petr Cech by Shane Long.
Almost immediately, the Czechs responded with Jiri Stajner -- who had moved into the offensive midfield role vacated by Tomas Rosicky -- slipping away from Stephen Ward and calling Shay Given into action.
The Czechs seemed content to allow Ireland have the ball in their own half, whereas other visitors to Lansdowne have realised the benefits of pressing high up the park.
It was a policy that almost cost them when Andrews was given ample time to collect from the back, and release a superb long pass onto the toe of Robbie Keane. The Irish skipper's first touch was perfect; the second bereft of the conviction to forge a way past a grateful Cech.
Trapattoni had spoken in the preliminaries about his plans to use Keane in a more withdrawn role, yet it was only when Glenn Whelan spent time on the sidelines with a nasty cut to his lip that the Tallaght man was pushed back.
While the Czechs tried to spread the play, they lacked the incision to really stretch Ireland. Indeed, the manner in which the contest was developing was summed up around the half-hour mark when the cursed Mexican wave reared its head.
Mostly, the fans were reduced to silence, as the two sides patiently went about their business.
There was a brief worrying moment when Andrews went down clutching his knee -- a reminder that the real fear in this kind of game is a serious injury.
Unfortunately, there was more danger of that than there was of entertainment in the turgid run up to the break. Czech midfielder Petr Jiracek peeped his head above the sea of mediocrity with a clever run and shot that was pushed away by Given. Jiracek's reward was the hook at the interval, while Trapattoni made no changes.
Four minutes later, the Czechs were ahead. The Irish lost their shape as the red shirts moved the ball outside the Irish box. Jan Rezek, the left-sided Czech attacker, wandered inside to gather and both John O'Shea and Damien Duff followed his run, but they didn't note Milan Baros, the former Liverpool man, who had been largely anonymous until then.
He spun away to collect a deft flick from Rezek. The Galatasaray attacker, who looked like a world beater as a teenager, just required basic composure to slot past the Donegal native.
"It was a misunderstanding," sighed the Irish manager.
This presented Trapattoni's charges with a relatively unfamiliar position. Under his stewardship, they haven't a huge amount of experience in chasing the game and when a system is primarily based around not losing, then it poses a problem. As Ireland searched for a Plan B, Michal Bilek's team grew in confidence, and the impressive Rezek flashed wide when he again slipped into space 20 yards from goal.
The natives demanded fresh faces. Trapattoni responded by sending for Stephen Hunt and Paul Green, the latter favoured to James McCarthy even though he didn't make the original squad. Considering the Italian had suggested that McCarthy was showing some of the attributes to fit into his engine-room, the Wigan lad must now be genuinely worried about his Euro 2012 prospects.
A shot of McClean and Seamus Coleman motionless on the bench only served to disappoint the masses even further.
Despite having the lead, Bilek was ringing the changes. In fact, he withdrew Baros in the minutes after the goal, satisfied that the 30-year-old's work was done. Hunt's first major contribution was to swing in a free that was cleared to McGeady -- now deployed on the right -- and the Glaswegian duly curled a menacing delivery to the far post where Darren O'Dea nodded straight at Cech, who was again in the right place.
That was followed by a revamp of the Irish forward line, with Cox and Jonathan Walters summoned for Long and Keane. However, the loudest cheer of the evening came when McClean was sent to stretch his legs and then stripped off to replace Damien Duff with 10 minutes remaining. "It was a reward for him," said Trapattoni.
His first touch was fanatically cheered, and he showed enough promise for the 72-year-old to suggest he will be monitoring him closely in the weeks ahead. But while his arrival lifted the decibel levels, it was the persistence of Andrews that prompted the equaliser.
Czech sub Daniel Kolar laboured in possession, and Andrews pounced before advancing with intent and slipping through Cox who had plenty of work to do, first evading the clutches of Tomas Sivok and then drawing Cech, before sliding the ball into the bottom corner from a tight angle.
Ireland -- Given, O'Shea, St Ledger, O'Dea, Ward; Duff (Hunt 63), Whelan (Green 63), Andrews, McGeady (McClean 80); Keane (Cox 71), Long (Walters 71).
Czech Republic -- Cech, Gebreselassie (Rajtoral 67), Limbersky, Sivok, Kadlec; Plasil, Jiracek (Hubschman 45), Stajner (Kolar 59); Petrzela (Pilar 67), Baros (Lafata 58), Rezek (Pekhart 87).
Ref -- M de Sousa (Portugal).