Gibson screamer lights up Ireland
Welsh fail to fire on satisfactory night for Trap
SOMETIMES a game can turn on a moment and, with one swing of his right boot, Darron Gibson suddenly gave the paying punters reason to believe that their trip to the Aviva Stadium was justified.
The midfielder's stunning strike on the hour mark acted as the catalyst for a conclusion to this Carling Nations Cup tie that made Giovanni Trapattoni a happy man. Further goals from Damien Duff and Keith Fahey put an emphatic look on the scoreline.
Irish fans jokingly sang about lifting a trophy, yet the real purpose of this exercise was to build towards the European Championship qualifiers down the road and, in that regard, the Ireland manager was satisfied.
"The first thing is the positive result," said Trapattoni. "The second thing is that it was important to watch the performance of the new players, the young players. I'm happy for them because they played well, with good personality. They did what I wanted."
Much as the build-up was dominated by the 71-year-old's unusual handling of the James McCarthy situation, the presence of Seamus Coleman and Ciaran Clark in the starting line-up gave the 20,800 who attended the chance to watch two promising international careers kick off.
It is difficult to measure their suitability to international football on the basis of this showing, considering they were encountering a British team inferior to what they have encountered in the Premier League this term.
Dealing with continental opposition would provide a more accurate barometer to the clash of styles that might confront the duo in the Euro 2012 race.
Nevertheless, this fixture did give an opportunity to assess how they might slot into Trapattoni's chosen system. In this regard, it was easier for Clark to make an impression as he generally went about his business well and slotted in beside three members of the Irish manager's untroubled back four.
Aside from one rash tackle, the Aston Villa man generally looked comfortable, and has made a compelling case for inclusion ahead of the absent regular, Kevin Kilbane.
"He showed that he pays attention and he is strong," said Trapattoni.
Coleman didn't do that much wrong, yet perhaps fell short of the expectations he has set for himself with his all-action performances for Everton. He was reasonably well marshalled, and will undoubtedly learn from the experience. Indeed, it was a surprise that his evening was ended in the 57th minute, although he has come through a gruelling schedule with his employers of late.
There was also an opportunity for Gibson to further his claims after getting the nod ahead of Paul Green in the heart of the midfield. The 23-year-old has been delivered similar opportunities in the past without ever really capitalising, and produced a display that perhaps proves why he polarises opinions.
After failing to convince in the first hour -- the holding role in a 4-4-2 really doesn't play to his strengths -- he strode forward with purpose to unleash a rocket that set Ireland on course for victory.
Elsewhere, the workrate of Jonathan Walters, making his first start after a sub cameo against Norway in November, was a real positive and he will certainly be involved as an impact player in the meaningful tests that lie ahead.
Alas, the important asterisk here is that Wales were so poor, that it was hard to gauge the merit of this victory.
This competition was supposed to provide intensity, but the occasion was subdued from the outset, with an early effort from Glenn Whelan which looped wide failing to raise the decibel levels.
Gary Speed was making his bow in the Welsh dugout yet, shorn of Gareth Bale and Craig Bellamy, he was devoid of quality. The best they could muster was a flick from Rob Earnshaw around the half hour mark that released Simon Church whose strike stung the fingers of Shay Given. Earlier, there was a vain penalty shout that irked Speed, although he made no excuses about the final result.
Ireland were quite comfortable in the first half without ever really penetrating. Walters was bright in the early exchanges, but it was his strike partner Kevin Doyle who threatened to penetrate with two runs at the heart of Speed's back four, one of which gave his Wolves club-mate Wayne Hennessey something to do. However, it was a combination of the debutants that came closest to breaking the deadlock before the interval, with Coleman's centre nodded narrowly wide by Clark.
Doyle didn't return, with Shane Long sent on in his place, and he was involved in a promising resumption for the hosts. Firstly, Walters did everything right except produce the killer finish after stepping away from his Welsh pursuers, before a flowing counter attack, set off by Whelan and assisted by Damien Duff, culminated with Long blasting over.
Walters threatened again before Gibson, who was booked and gave the ball away a few times in a disappointing start to his second half, burst to life to produce a moment of genuine quality.
The Derry lad played a quick one-two with Whelan, nipped away from David Vaughan and unleashed a 25-yard screamer that will take some beating in the 2011 Goal of the Year race.
Vaughan was duly withdrawn, and Ireland stepped things up a gear. "Once the goal went in, our heads dropped," conceded Speed.
Ireland soon doubled their advantage with a goal born from Walters' persistence and tardiness from Welsh sub Chris Gunter. He tried to usher the ball behind for a kick-out, failing to account for the Stoke man's industry.
After seizing possession, the Irish striker's cutback missed Long and found Duff who followed up to convert his first international goal since Steve Staunton's first game in charge back in 2006.
"We need this kind of physical player," said Trapattoni of Walters. "And he also played good football too. I congratulated him."
That was effectively game over with both managers emptying the benches. Andy Keogh and Paul Green were introduced into the fray, and Marc Wilson was sent in for his Irish debut in place of Gibson with 10 minutes remaining.
One of his first tasks was to join his colleagues in celebrating Ireland's third. Fahey, bizarrely placed on standby instead of making the final squad, demonstrated the set-piece prowess that so often thrilled St Patrick's Athletic fans in his former life. His right foot curler gave Hennessey no chance.
Ireland -- Given, O'Shea (O'Dea 85), St Ledger, Dunne, Clark; Coleman (Fahey 57), Gibson (Wilson 81), Whelan (Green 76), Duff (Keogh 71); Walters, Doyle (Long 45).
Wales -- Hennessey, Eardley (Gunter 45), D Collins, J Collins, Ricketts; King, Vaughan (Ledley 60), Crofts; Church, Earnshaw (Easter 80), Robson-Kanu (Eastwood 67)
Ref -- M Courtney (Northern Ireland)