Wednesday 18 September 2019

Another bore draw offers no reason for cheer

Denmark 0-0 Republic of Ireland

Michael Obafemi
Michael Obafemi
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Is this the best Ireland can do?

That's the question facing the FAI hierarchy this morning after another horrible game to cap a deflating year.

Martin O'Neill's team did secure a result, but it would be a stretch to describe it as a positive one.

An understrength Danish team did fail to break down a sturdy rearguard.

But they had no real need to do so. Christian Eriksen was withdrawn at half-time because this was a dead-rubber.

Exasperation

There was exasperation at some poor second-half misses, yet Age Hareide's team were hardly banging the door down in the dying minutes.

Hareide was unimpressed, responding with 'No' when asked if he had much of experience of games where the opposition side offered so little by way of a threat.

It completes a second successive scoreless double-header for Ireland and they couldn't even register a shot on target here. That's hard to sell as progress.

O'Neill's team did go unbeaten on their travels in the World Cup campaign, but they had more experienced players available then. A younger team are now becoming accustomed to the same way.

Without coherent patterns of play to hurt teams in the opposition half, they will go nowhere.

O'Neill has managed to stem the tide from the drubbing in Cardiff, but the price for that is the absence of attacking innovation.

The glass-half-full view on the year is that it's been about transition. The half-empty take is that it will go down as a story of regression.

And the latter view would appear to be the popular one if the mood amongst travelling fans in Aarhus is a barometer. There's no enjoyment to be taken from this kind of exercise.

The long road towards Euro 2020 promises to be a slog.

"We were very strong defensively," argued O'Neill. "Now we have to try and fix it at the other end.

"Next year is the year when it comes to the big stuff, playing big, big matches and the players have shown in the past few years that they've been up to it."

They will start that journey as third seeds and can have no complaints about that.

This was bleak fare, with the Danes reduced to silence by the dour scrap. For blanket weather, Ireland adopted a blanket defence.

Any references to a 3-5-2 formation are misleading because it's really a 3-6-1 with Callum O'Dowda - who was notionally supposed to support Aiden O'Brien - spending the majority of the match close to Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick and Cyrus Christie with the protection of a five-man defence around them.

Lone striker O'Brien, who got the nod ahead of Callum Robinson, also spent a fair portion of time on the defensive too.

Ireland came into this match without having scored a first-half goal in 2018 and there was never a danger of that statistic being threatened.

Enda Stevens, in for his first competitive start, did make an early break into the box that was cut off and a Robbie Brady free struck the side-netting but that was basically the chance count.

Denmark had the better attacking moments, although they were scarce.

Stevens got away with a tug on Danish right-full Peter Ankersen inside the area, and the locals continued to target that flank. Ankersen called Darren Randolph into action with a cross-shot before the interval.

Eriksen meandered around in an attempt to make things happen, often at walking pace, as the Irish block assembled.

With nothing at stake for the natives, urgency was optional. Ireland's strategy appeared to be about self-preservation.

Christie's discomfort in midfield remained a feature of proceedings, with the career full-back uneasy when trying to take the ball facing his own goal. Denmark seized on the weakness. O'Neill acknowledged the Fulham player had started slowly.

"I thought he came into the game strongly after that," he insisted. "I was very pleased with him."

But a central midfielder whose main purpose is to cover ground said a lot about the approach. And management's view of the options on the bench.

Eriksen did not return for the second half, but Danes should have gone ahead from the restart when Yussuf Poulsen fired wildly over the bar after messy defending from the visitors.

And they squandered a glorious opportunity to break the deadlock when Richard Keogh was caught in possession and Nicolai Jorgensen wriggled free before striking the post with Randolph beaten.

The other number nine, O'Brien, would have relished an opportunity of that quality.

His night was summed up by a moment just before the hour mark when he gained possession in the Danish half. Seven red shirts were closest to him.

Ireland were painfully slow to commit. O'Neill mixed things up shortly afterwards by introducing Ronan Curtis and Robinson in a double change, with O'Brien and Brady replaced.

Curtis was sent forward and he did try to press the Danish back four who doubtless appreciated the opportunity to warm up a little.

Seamus Coleman did make a couple of forays into the opposition half but his final ball was poor and his frustration evident.

With time running out, O'Neill did look to take something out of the trip by introducing Michael Obafemi for his debut.

He was given a crash-course in what things are like for an Irish striker by spending the majority of his time on the park chasing lost causes.

The 18-year-old's appearance means he is the first player to be born in the 21st century to win a senior cap.

It came in a fixture which offered little reason to be cheerful about the future.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport