Tuesday 12 December 2017

Supporting cast steal show as Irish strength in depth cheers Trap

Ireland 1 Bosnia 0

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

IT's been 10 years since Ireland's last appearance at a major tournament and Saturday's farewell to Dublin demonstrated that the 2012 squad has greater strength in depth than the 2002 version.

Normally, in a friendly game, the raft of second-half substitutions diminishes the quality of the Irish side. This was different.

When Giovanni Trapattoni was appointed, the prospect of withdrawing Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle screamed danger.

Back in Korea and Japan, the ageing Niall Quinn and a young Steven Reid were Mick McCarthy's game-changers.

On a sunny afternoon at Lansdowne Road, the introduction of Shane Long and Jonathan Walters arguably added to the intensity levels; and they benefited from the brilliance of Aiden McGeady, who was kept in reserve until the interval in a timeshare with Duff as James McClean continued his education with an impressive 90-minute show in front of 37,100 spectators.

Walters modestly pointed out in the aftermath that Keane and Doyle had tired out the Bosnian backline, yet there's no doubt that the manner in which the Stoke man and Long affected this encounter has encouraged Trapattoni about the options in reserve should Ireland find themselves chasing a lead in Poland.


Of course, he will hope that solid defensive organisation prevents his men from entering that position. And, if guaranteed starter McGeady can bring his second-half form to the finals, then the underdogs will create chances.

McGeady is often criticised for a lack of end product, yet his contribution here made a mockery of that allegation. He was at the heart of Ireland's key attacking moments, providing the cross for Long's 78th-minute winner and also teeing up the West Brom man for another attempt that was miraculously saved by Bosnian 'keeper Asmir Begovic.

The Spartak Moscow man created two openings for Walters as well, with the first smacking the crossbar, and the second thwarted by Begovic.

Admittedly, a capable Bosnian side had a complacent look about them at times, but that shouldn't take away from the Irish positives in a fixture that took a while to warm up. McClean shone before the interval, a half where the hosts were reasonably comfortable without ever finding an extra gear.

Duff was central in the two key moments of the half, shooting wide from a Doyle lay-off before Begovic blocked him from close range following a deft Keane flick.

Bosnia enjoyed decent spells of possession, although not enough to describe this as a perfect dress rehearsal for the showdown with their neighbours, Croatia, on June 10 in Poznan.

Slaven Bilic's side are far more assertive in midfield, and the Bosnians were bereft of real invention in the final third. Paul McShane, who did reasonably well, ended one promising attack with a block that led to calls for handball, while Stephen Ward reacted cleverly to unsettle Manchester City's Edin Dzeko in the dying stages of the opening 45.

The Wolves man did rashly jump in on Bosnian sub Miroslav Stefanovic in a fraught period at the beginning of the second half, but purposeful attacks from the Balkan nation were infrequent. McGeady's strike against the post from a Doyle flick hinted at what was to come.

In the centre of the park, Darron Gibson caught the manager's eye. The Everton man made the odd error, but Trapattoni was impressed by his vision, and growing maturity. "I think the change of club has been very important for him," he said.

The loss of Keith Fahey has increased the likelihood that Gibson will spend time on the pitch in Poland. Fahey looked to have skipped ahead of the Everton midfielder in the queue last autumn; now Gibson is poised to push Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews. Paul Green is there to provide a defensive service; if Ireland are trailing, it is Gibson Trapattoni will turn to because of his superior creativity.

Trapattoni's gamble on Richard Dunne paid off, with the Aston Villa centre-half reminding everyone of his importance with a commanding show before he was replaced by Sean St Ledger -- his original intended partner until the manager decided on Friday night that it was unwise to play his first-choice duo with question marks over their fitness.

Darren O'Dea stepped in, and the rearguard was rarely breached. The most nervous moment came at the death when sub Mehmed Alispahic shot wide under minimal pressure after a rare lapse of concentration.

An equaliser would have been harsh on an Irish side which deserved a victory that should build momentum for the road ahead.

IRELAND -- Westwood; McShane (Kelly 78), Dunne (St Ledger 70), O'Dea, Ward; Duff (McGeady 46), Gibson, Whelan (Andrews 46), McClean; Keane (Long 62), Doyle (Walters 62)

BOSNIA -- Begovic; Mujdza (Zahirovic 56), Pandza, Jahic, Lulic; Pjanic, Medunjanin (Stevanovic 46), Rahimic (Vrancic, 46), Misimovic; Ibisevic (Vranjes 70), Dzeko.

REF -- N Haenni (Swi).

Irish Independent

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