Friday 6 December 2019

Holiday mode gets better of sluggish Irish

Ireland 1 Turkey 2

Jon Walters lifts the ball over Turkey goalkeeper Onur Kivrak to score for Ireland
Jon Walters lifts the ball over Turkey goalkeeper Onur Kivrak to score for Ireland
Daryl Murphy flicks the ball on in an effort to set up an attack
Ireland's Mark Wilson tackles Turkey's Ozan Tufan
Turkey's Ozan Tufan dribbles between Ireland's Mark Wilson, left, and Wes Hoolahan
Ireland's Seamus Coleman, James McClean and Daryl Murphy contest a loose ball with Turkey's Ishak Dogan, Hakan Kadir Balta and Caner Erkin
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In his programme notes, FAI chief executive John Delaney implored Ireland fans to go out and buy a season ticket, but this Sunday evening friendly is unlikely to have sold too many.

Martin O'Neill joked afterwards that some members of his family had threatened to watch One Direction instead, conscious there was a bigger attraction in town that was drawing the crowds.

The manager's frustration in the wake of a second successive defeat was his own side's inability to strike the right notes when it really matters.

In general play, there was some cause for encouragement but that was undone by sloppy defending and poor finishing.

Once again, the reputations of Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane were enhanced in absentia.

"If we can improve defensively and if someone can find the back of the net for us regularly enough, we will give ourselves a chance," said O'Neill, summing up the general tone of his comments.

Looking to the long term, the FAI require results to swell attendances and also boost Ireland's world ranking from a lowly 66th spot.

Given that it will determine seedings for the 2018 World Cup, this could become a bigger issue.

Naturally enough, O'Neill is looking to the Euros and he drew positives from the performance of the lively Wes Hoolahan, the man of the match, who was auditioned again in the hole between midfield and attack.

"Despite the fact some brutes tried to push him off the ball, Wes showed great determination," said O'Neill.

The Norwich man's penchant for quickly-taken free-kicks when he is fouled is just one marked contrast from the old regime, and O'Neill thinks the movement and awareness of the Dubliner will unlock opposition defences during the forthcoming campaign.

Ireland's vulnerability at home remains a concern, though, and this was another flat event.

The appointment of the 'dream team' spiked the attendance for last November's friendly with Latvia but the lengthy honeymoon period has been unable to sustain that interest with the stadium crying out for a competitive fixture.

The next game here, the September 3 visit of Oman, is hardly going to bring the public out in force.

There was a sleepy feel to the early minutes here as the crowd trickled in.

Holiday mode is always a formidable opponent at this time of year and, while management praised the urgency in training, it took a few minutes to translate to the pitch as Ireland, modelling a new all-green strip, spluttered through the early moments and had to cope with a spell of Turkish pressure. But they had actually regrouped and created a pair of outstanding opportunities by the time they fell behind in the 17th minute.

First, the profligacy.

Winger Aiden McGeady, Ireland's best player in the early exchanges, slipped through Shane Long who had the pace to get away from Omer Toprak but was then unsettled by his presence and went down in the area.

Referee Ruddy Buquet waved away appeals for a foul that would have resulted in a penalty and red card; in a competitive tie, this incident might have received greater prominence in the post-mortem.

"It was pretty blatant and I think the referee knows that," said O'Neill, who hinted that the status of the match might have influenced the official's verdict.

Long was enervated by a series of misses in the March defeat to Serbia – although he did open the scoring in another 2-1 loss – and had a quick chance to make amends when he seized control of a set piece that pinballed around the box and then shot straight at keeper Onur Kivrak from close range.

The Hull striker was cursing his miss when Wes Hoolahan fired the rebound into the six yard box where the outstretched leg of skipper John O'Shea made it past Kivrak only for Caner Erkin to step in and clear from off the line.

That wastefulness was instantaneously punished by the Turks with midfielder Ahmet Ilhan Ozek, a newcomer to their set-up, slipping between Stephen Ward and Damien Delaney to steer a header past debutant keeper Rob Elliot at the near post.

O'Neill felt that Delaney, selected next to O'Shea on account of a fine season with Crystal Palace, could have done better in the build-up.

"He played a long diagonal ball when he should have gone into midfield," explained the manager.

To claim that the goal silenced the crowd would inaccurately infer that all bar the hardcore were making some noise in the first place. While Long offered an outlet for a ball over the top when necessary, O'Neill's side did try and vary play with Hoolahan's eagerness encouraging it.

His invention almost set the wheels of an equaliser in motion with his clever release of James McClean resulting in a cross that the Turks scrambled to safety.

McClean then had a strike on goal when McGeady, hungry for game-time, drifted from right to left and cleverly picked out the Wigan winger for a volley that was smartly stopped by Kivrak.

"We should have had the game out of sight at half-time," stressed O'Neill, "I genuinely don't know how we lost the match."


The shortage of incision immediately after half-time was one factor.

Much as holding midfielders Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson sought to press on, Turkey weren't exactly stretched even if they were giving Elliot little to worry about.

Ireland were bereft of the subtlety to pose them any danger and couldn't find a way to bring Seamus Coleman into proceedings like his Everton colleagues do.

O'Neill opted to switch things up with 25 minutes remaining, sending in Daryl Murphy, Jon Walters and David Meyler to add more physicality to the mix and sacrifice some width with McGeady withdrawn along with Long and Delaney.

Wilson reverted to the heart of defence, while McClean switched to the right flank and Hoolahan meandered in from the left.

As Ireland adjusted, a pair of Turkish subs warmed to the task and seized a crucial second with Oguzhan Ozyakup dragging green shirts out of shape and releasing Tarik Camdal who smashed to the roof of the net with Wilson's sluggishness leaving the German-born goalscorer onside.

O'Neill thought his defence were caught cold after a quiet spell.

"I was just saying in the dressing-room that there are big moments where you have to be stronger and we've conceded two goals tonight when I think there should have been less danger."

That setback might have tempted large portions of the reported 25,000 crowd to head for the hills but they were given reason to stay with 12 minutes to go as Hoolahan spotted a clever run from Walters and picked him out perfectly.

The Stoke attacker did the rest in impressive fashion, turning the committed Toprak and smashing the roof of the net. It prompted hope of a late revival and the tempo lifted.

Ultimately, it forged only one opportunity with McClean's doggedness followed by a delivery that Murphy headed at Kivrak.

The restoration of parity wouldn't have papered over cracks that have to be explored ahead of next Saturday's date with Italy in London.

Ireland – Elliot, Coleman, O'Shea, Delaney (Meyler, 65), Ward, Whelan (Quinn, 82), Wilson, McGeady (Walters, 66), Hoolahan, McClean, Long (Murphy 66).

Turkey – Kivrak, Gonul, Toprak, Balta, Erkin, Ozek (Camdal, 70), Calhanoglu (Adin, 63), Inan (Ozyakup, 21), Nuri Sahin (Dogan, 84), Kisa (Tufan, 46),Erdinc (Pektemek, 81).

Ref – R Buquet (Fra)


Game at a glance

Man of the ma match

Wes Hoolahan

MARTIN O'Neill said afterwards that he views Hoolahan as the right man for home games – at the very least – in the forthcoming campaign and he produced an assist and some inventive moments that again highlighted the folly of his long-term absence under previous management

Magic moment

Jon Walters is often used on the right side by Ireland, but he seized a chance for central billing when sprung from the bench and demonstrated superb control and powerful finishing to make the last 10 minutes interesting.

Talking point

When is it acceptable to be impatient? We are still probably in a honeymoon period, but back-to-back home defeats is still a worry, given the need to generate positive momentum going into September. A win from the next three matches would help the deteriorating world ranking situation too.

Referee watch

French official Ruddy Buquet might have been cast as the pantomime villain if this was a meaningful match as he could have awarded a red card and penalty for an early shove on Shane Long. O'Neill suggested that the spirit of friendly matches could have influenced his viewpoint and, if so, there would be sense to that approach

Manager watch

Martin O'Neill sat next to new coach Steve Walford on the bench with Roy Keane the next seat down and, while he didn't patrol the sideline too much before the break, he was an active presence on the there in the second half.

Crowd watch

The official attendance was given as 25,191, although it didn't quite feel like that at times with a relaxed Sunday evening vibe. Indeed, the small Turkish following were the most energised and let off a few flares in the first half, although security quickly made sure they were extinguished.

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