Sunday 23 September 2018

Brian Kerr: A shift in attitude not the system should be the priority for O'Neill’s men

Formation may have changed but Ireland still struggle to  attain pass mastery

James McClean is off to Stoke
James McClean is off to Stoke

Brian Kerr

A new formation but old problems persist. At times, Ireland's inability to get on the ball and surrender so much ground and initiative reminded us of the away games in Cardiff, Denmark and Georgia.

This may be a result that will soon be forgotten but there had been a hope expressed from the camp beforehand that there might be some development in style and intent to play. For long periods, this wasn't in evidence.

None of the players damaged their credentials, though, even if the wing-back system took another dunt.

Declan Rice's emergence was the headline act; he looked as comfortable in midfield as he did in defence and was more composed in possession than many of his colleagues, which may reflect well on the 19-year-old but hardly endorses his more senior colleagues.

Rice and Kevin Long both looked comfortable and it seemed as if they wanted to participate in some build-up play from the back; instead, in the first minute, we witnessed the predictable sight of Shane Duffy booting a long ball upfield to nobody in particular.

This was repeated in the second minute.

It was as if the extra man in the front-line now afforded O'Neill's team a more viable excuse for hitting it long and, aside from Jeff Hendrick's momentary inspiration when he threaded a lovely ball through to Scott Hogan, there was no intent from Ireland to develop any passing pattern.

Dabbled

Once, Colin Doyle passed it to Seamus Coleman but it was noticeable that when he did so, there was no Irish player in a position to receive another pass so the move broke down.

A change in system, particularly if one is intent on passing, requires sustained practice over a number of days with close to your starting team.

O'Neill has dabbled with wing-backs before but only in desperate situations, for example against Serbia late on. Notably, he played three centre-backs against Mexico last summer but, with little repeated training time, it was calamitous and James McClean, in particular, was badly exposed on that occasion.

Given that Ireland have predominantly had a solid defence in recent times, at least until that ignominious second-leg in Denmark, the primary aim for Ireland is to expand their midfield horizons and a more effective manner in linking the play.

A new system is not a priority but a shift in attitude is.

Ireland's defence was rarely ruffled against the Turks in open play, save for a couple of instances where a lack of communication from Doyle threatened a minor calamity, and when we reverted to 4-4-2, the removal of one defender barely made a difference.

While the welcome return of Coleman was characteristically smooth, Ireland certainly don't extract the maximum from McClean in this system and it is difficult to see him emerging into a player like Kevin Kilbane who made the transition much more easily.

McClean's aggression is a liability in a position that requires calmness.

Aside from that aforementioned Hendrick through ball, we didn't really see any prolonged period of passing until the 27th minute.

Just before half-time, Ireland enjoyed their best spell of sustained passing, when everyone looked comfortable on the ball. It didn't go anywhere but it looked composed and, more importantly, it seemed as if players were enjoying being on the ball.

Throughout, they struggled with the movement and the technical ability on the ball of the Turkish players, who managed to swamp the midfield areas with their full-backs coming inside at times too.

Ireland's midfield trio swapped positions during the game and that was a refection that they were in trouble. For this reason, Hogan and Maguire struggled without any quality service.

It would have been nice to see that Hogan chance fall to Maguire who has been a more prolific finisher.

You get very few chances in international football where you beat the goalkeeper; the Aston Villa man's touch with the right foot was very heavy which made the angle very difficult for the shot. He should have scored with his left.

Exposed

Despite their prominence on the ball, Turkey never really exposed Ireland in open play which confirms that the defence is not really as much of an issue for Ireland compared to their difficulties at the other end of the field.

After the break, however, Ireland did show a bit more deliberate intent to pass the ball and there was much more evidence of the play being linked with the front pairing, particularly the willing Maguire and Hogan.

Ironically, though, Ireland would fall behind in this period; they didn't heed the warning of an earlier Turkish corner and, despite a heavily-populated defensive set-up, some hesitation by the goalkeeper and indecision by his defenders demonstrated that Ireland's frailty at set-pieces still lingers.

Some allowances must be made given the swathe of new players involved and, creditably, Ireland improved the longer the game went on.

David Meyler's introduction added a bit more of a familiar shape to proceedings and Ireland's time on the ball grew from that.

It was also nice to see Alan Judge's return; at his best with Brentford, he is a goalscorer and that is what we lack.

This exercise may not seem to have been brimful of much long-term worth but the emergence of Rice could prove to be quite valuable indeed in the years to come.

It would be premature to announce his arrival after just one friendly defeat; just as it is too early to assess how meaningful is the manager's commitment to a wholesale change in attitude.

Irish Independent

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