Tuesday 23 January 2018

Goodnight Vienna as Trap era fizzles out

Austria 1 Ireland 0 World Cup qualifying group C

Shane Long and John O'Shea can't bare to watch Austria's goal
Shane Long and John O'Shea can't bare to watch Austria's goal
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THIS was the night that Giovanni Trapattoni's luck deserted him.

When the ball took on a ping-pong personality in the Irish penalty area with six minutes remaining, there was one player he didn't want it to rebound towards. But David Alaba was there again, ready to smash it into the roof of the net and end Trapattoni's unbeaten record in away qualifiers. More pertinently, it could be the last act of his time in charge.

He confirmed afterwards that he will not walk away, but the subsequent statement from the FAI suggested that a decision is imminent, with the Italian's scheduled post-match briefing this afternoon cancelled.

It is unlikely that he will be in situ for the meaningless encounters with Germany and Kazakhstan that will draw the curtain on a campaign to forget.

The 74-year-old will argue that without the two late goals from Bayern Munich star Alaba, the Group C table could have a radically different appearance this morning. That misses the basic point that Austria found the positions to strike late because Ireland lack a coherent strategy to capitalise on promising situations.


The hosts are an average side, Alaba aside, yet when a frantic game called for subtlety, Trapattoni went for the big man and sent in Conor Sammon. That may be his philosophy but, after three campaigns, it's abundantly obvious that another one is required.

This reverse coupled with Sweden's triumph in Kazakhstan earlier in the day means that realistically, if not mathematically, Ireland are out of the shake-up for Brazil.

Trapattoni's men would have to take six points from their final double header with Germany and Kazakhstan and pray for a fairly implausible series of results elsewhere, including an Austrian defeat in the Faroes. And with John O'Shea and Richard Dunne suspended for Cologne, that match already has damage limitation in the job description.

It's all over, and the FAI board now have to decide whether to cut their ties with Trapattoni this week or wait until the campaign has reached an end. He was retained last October because Ireland were still in with a chance of qualifying; now that is no longer the case, all they need to work out is the financial implications of calling a halt immediately.

In a way, this fixture confirmed what we knew already.

True to form under Trapattoni, they started this away game well, with the younger players who struggled on Friday coming to the fore – Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy started well.

Paul Green, still the butt of many jokes, was also effective in the early stages, similar to Stockholm in March as he helped to break up play from his berth in front of the back four.

Still, while Ireland went through a period of keeping possession reasonably well, they still lacked the incisive pass and too often a decent passage was followed by a hopeful punt in the direction of Long, who was perhaps paid a compliment by a reshuffle of the Austrian defence to deal with his presence.

Still, it was 21 minutes before Ireland created a chance, when a slice from Sebastian Prodl gave Jon Walters an opportunity to probe but the cross to Long was misjudged slightly. Two better ones followed when a David Forde kickout gathered momentum from a bounce to outfox the Austrian defence to find Robbie Keane, who slipped away from his man and fired across the six-yard box from a tight angle with Long cursing the fact he didn't have the poacher's instinct to arrive on time.

Then, Anthony Pilkington slipped into space inside the area and found the side netting with a daisy-cutter.

Austria were struggling to get into any rhythm with the home crowd growing frustrated as the minutes passed. Alaba showed glimpses of his quality but he was tracked by Green and tried to roam in an attempt to gain some joy.

He eventually succeeded 10 minutes from the break with a superb first touch, a dance around Richard Dunne and a thunderbolt that Forde pushed to safety, and in the next movement he wandered right, cut in on his left and unleashed another which Dunne blocked.

A fine through ball from McCarthy to Long demonstrated the Glaswegian's ability, although it eventually came to nothing.

The Portugese referee made his mark, awarding a yellow to O'Shea for a soft foul which means he misses Germany; a furious Keane was booked after the whistle for angrily protesting. O'Shea only lasted four more minutes, walking

off with an ankle injury.

That failed to check the men in black, who again resumed with purpose, although Long and Walters were both guilty of taking aim from distance when there were better options available. The agitation levels on the sidelines increased as Dunne was questionably booked and then Walters and Pilkington had penalty appeals turned down.

But there was relief too with 25 minutes remaining when Austria squandered a fine chance when Andreas Weimann shot straight at Forde from 10 yards. They cut through again when Martin Harnik was too quick for Dunne before blasting into orbit.

A pair of heroic blocks from Coleman retained parity with the Donegal lad throwing his body in the way of Harnik's effort. The pendulum was swinging ominously towards Marcel Koller's charges, though, and, predictably, Trapattoni opted to send for Sammon rather than the creative talents of Wes Hoolahan or Robbie Brady in a search for a shot on target. With Ireland unable to hold onto possession, Austria pushed and eventually got their reward.

Skipper Christian Fuchs ventured forward and sent in a dangerous cross that caused pandemonium, with Marc Wilson's hurried clearance striking Green and falling on a plate for Alaba, who demonstrated his capabilities with an emphatic finish.

Like Trapattoni's era as a whole, this was a night that started encouragingly and ended badly.

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