Wednesday 25 April 2018

Doyle keeps Irish on track for play-off showdown

Andorra 0 Ireland 2

Ireland' s Kevin Doyle celebrates scoring his sides first goal of the game
Ireland' s Kevin Doyle celebrates scoring his sides first goal of the game

NO drama here. The target now is to book a ticket for the theatre of the play-offs.

Russia's victory in Slovakia means that, unless this Andorran side undergo a personality transformation on their trip to Moscow, the best Ireland can hope for is second spot in Group B.

A ninth consecutive clean sheet on Tuesday against a free-scoring Armenian side will ensure that Giovanni Trapattoni's side are in the hat in Krakow next Thursday.

But the Irish manager last night stressed that it would be "wrong" to enter that game looking for a draw.

Instead, he wants his men to go about their business with the mentality that quickly wrapped up this mismatch with a team who lived up to their position at the bottom of the world rankings.

"We have to continue with this attitude and mentality," said the 72-year-old. "I am happy tonight because I told the team they could not underestimate any opponent, and it was important that we achieved security early."

Worries about the altitude and the narrow pitch were rendered irrelevant by the manner in which Trapattoni's men burst out of the blocks and left the part-timers gasping for breath.

With Kevin Doyle and Aiden McGeady prominent, the 1/16 favourites struck twice in the first 20 minutes to ensure that the second half took place in a training ground atmosphere that suited the unusual backdrop.

All things considered, it was a pleasant evening for the 360 or so Irish fans inside the Estadi Comunal who remained in good voice.

Also watching from the cramped stands were the ill Keiren Westwood, head cold sufferer James McCarthy, and the five other players who missed out on the bench, with Seamus Coleman a surprising member of that contingent.

Then again, Trapattoni had stressed in the preliminaries that this was a game for the experienced pros. He predicted a war.

At times, it was closer to a punishment beating.

Before kick-off, Ireland did incur some damage, with Shay Given in discomfort during the warm-up after blocking a shot. Given was troubled by a wrist complaint earlier in the week and appeared to suffer a recurrence. Goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly applied some last-minute treatment.

Thankfully, it would be a quiet evening for the Donegal man, as the men in white started with real purpose.

The direct route to goal was the modus operandi, with Doyle at the centre of action, squandering a first-minute chance before setting up another for Robbie Keane; the Irish skipper was denied by Josep Gomes and smashed the rebound against the bar from a tight angle.

In the seventh minute, the deadlock was broken. Endeavour from McGeady forced a corner kick and the subsequent delivery pinballed around the Andorran area, with Doyle inadvertently blocking a Keane effort but reacting quickly to scoop the ball over Gomes after John O'Shea rose highest to pick up the pieces.

For the Wolves striker, it was a first international goal since the first meeting with the Andorrans 13 months ago. "It was good to see the normal Kevin Doyle," added Trapattoni, who is now satisfied the Wexford man is back to his best.

The minnows were rattled and were glad for a stoppage when Gomes noted a problem with the netting that required fixing. And after a couple of minutes' delay, the restart was followed by a set-piece for the hosts that Emili Garcia nodded over.

Alas, it was a temporary foray and Ireland responded by doubling their lead. Andorran indiscipline presented another free outside the box, and Czech referee Libor Kovarik penalised the underdogs for not staying back 10 yards for the first attempt.

Glenn Whelan threaded the retake into the path of McGeady, who unleashed a shot that the goalkeeper could only parry against the helpless defender Ildefonso Lima, who should go down as the scorer of an own goal.

From there, it was a matter of keeping concentration and avoiding silliness. The three players on yellow cards had to be particularly careful, but Stephen Ward erred by going down too easily in the box in search of a penalty.

Kovarik booked the defender for simulation and he misses Tuesday's decider. "I think the referee made a mistake because it was a foul," said Trapattoni.

The bench will surely have watched with a degree of trepidation as the game developed into a physical scrap, with a couple of meaty challenges that could have left their mark.

The intensity dropped off, however, with the Irish calling the shots. It rose a level or two when McGeady was in possession. He was the most dangerous performer on show, with the Andorran right-back, Alexandre Martinez, chasing shadows throughout.

For the red shirts, the interval delivered a chance to regroup, and they were slow about coming back out.

Ireland stepped it up again and went in search of a third. Keane should have converted another Doyle flick but shot straight at Gomes. Then, McGeady struck a post from a darting run, and another corner led to an acrobatic Darren O'Dea attempt that was a couple of inches too high.

Similar to the first half, the flurry of activity was followed by a lull. That was just what Trapattoni wanted as it allowed the opportunity to withdraw Whelan and Doyle, with Keith Fahey and Shane Long coming into the fray.

Stephen Hunt was then summoned to replace Damien Duff. Hunt was also a booking away from sanction and made sure to go up and have a friendly chat with the officials before the game. Clever boy.

The newcomers bustled around the place seeking to make an impression, yet the tone of the occasion was summed up by laughter from O'Shea when McGeady's stray pass made a hames of a possible one-two. On another night, such tardiness would have met with a stinging rebuke.

With extra conviction, Ireland could have made a bigger impression on the scoresheet, with Keane wasteful again, and Long narrowly wide with an instinctive header. But the frustration was minimal.

This was a stroll, with the only inconvenience for the squad being a post-match three-hour bus journey to Barcelona airport for the flight home.

Trapattoni and his players arrived back in Dublin in the early hours of this morning to prepare for a joust with a rampant Armenian team that also have history in their sights.

Irish Independent

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