Sunday 18 March 2018

Early goal enough on night short of definite answers

Ireland 1 Switzerland 0

Ciaran Clark celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Ciaran Clark celebrates after scoring the only goal of the game. Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Republic of Ireland's Alan Judge in action against Switzerland. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Republic of Ireland's Shane Long attempts to tackle Switzerland's Timm Klose. Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Roy Keane calls the shots from the sideline during last night’s game. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Hindsight tends to judge the value of these exercises so, come the summer, we may well look back on this night as significant in terms of deciding the identity of Ireland's Euro 2016 squad.

In the immediate aftermath, it was hard to do so with any kind of certainty. A win over the side ranked 12th in the world is a decent night's work, although the fixture is unlikely to live for long in the memory of the 35,450 in attendance - a good number of whom seemed to be equally energised by the jostling for positions at the bar before, during and after.

Martin O'Neill used the fixture to launch the international career of three players, while centre-half Shane Duffy made his second Irish appearance and will feel he has furthered his claims. That said, his defensive partner Ciaran Clark, who scored the only goal, is ahead in the queue and can be satisfied with his contribution.

Alan Judge was given 90 minutes to make his case and was competent without producing any fireworks. The Irish performance could easily fall under the same heading. O'Neill acknowledged afterwards that the display 'lacked cohesion'.


Unfortunately, the postscript to this match could be its impact on Kevin Doyle who was taken to hospital with a deep gash on his leg after a first-half incident that has placed his French hopes in jeopardy. Thankfully nothing was broken; the problem for the 32-year-old is that it cut short his window to remind management of his ability. O'Neill later observed that the Colorado Rapids attacker had started the game like his old self.

Quite a number of the punters that had arrived at the Aviva early to avail of the full beverage service were still downing their drinks when the natives grabbed the only goal.

The FAI had arranged a series of tributes to 1916 before kick-off; two minutes into the match it was the rising figure of Duffy that had the crowd on their feet with his header from Robbie Brady's corner nodded into the net by the blissfully unmarked Clark.

Ireland started positively with two strikers, Shane Long and Doyle, and they continued to apply pressure and win a series of corners. They were particularly effective on the left side with Aiden McGeady determined to make an impression after recently returning to life as a footballer with Sheffield Wednesday. He nearly got an assist on the board when a Doyle flick from his driven cross was hacked off the line.

The system demanded a high work rate in the centre of the park and both David Meyler and Stephen Quinn covered a lot of ground. O'Neill was keen to start with a front pair yet admitted there was a risk attached. "I knew it would give us a problem numerically," he said. "After we scored, Switzerland started to dominate the game."

Doyle and Long attempted to drop back and help out where possible and it was eagerness from the former that led to his injury.

He closed down Norwich's Timm Klose and appeared to have got the better of a physical challenge but the Swiss player's studs were raised and Doyle felt the brunt of the impact as he sprinted away to gather the ball. Instantly, he signalled to the bench that his evening was over and silence enveloped the ground as Long consoled him during the lengthy wait for a stretcher.

Daryl Murphy took his place in a game that was scattered in parts with mistakes not exactly at a premium. Brady, selected at left-back here, mixed promising moments going forward with a couple of nervous defensive moments meaning that the debate over his ideal position for the summer will continue.

Switzerland did have spells where they utilised an extra man and pulled Ireland out of shape, although they only really played through the defensive line once and teenage striker Breen Empolo squandered the opportunity by firing wildly off target. The closest they came to a leveller was also from a corner, with Haris Seferovic missing by inches when he won the aerial battle.

Ireland could have gone in at the interval two ahead, however, with captain for the evening Seamus Coleman ducking and diving down the right flank before sending in a lofted delivery that was steered onto the crossbar by the head of Long.

Predictably enough, the second half was peppered by substitutions with the changes kicking off from the hour mark, just after the sprightly Empolo was prevented from getting a shot on goal by a timely interception from the alert Clark.

O'Neill handed first caps to Jonathan Hayes and Eunan O'Kane in a treble switch that also brought James McCarthy into the fray to add steel to the centre of the park. He was joined in the engine room by Bournemouth's O'Kane with Aberdeen's Hayes initially involved on the left wing.

The wide men interchanged throughout, with Judge switching sides in search of joy. He will be keen for another outing on Tuesday as he was unable to really demonstrate his prowess in the final third here.

"Alan might feel it was a bit of a frustrating night for him," said O'Neill, "I was hoping we could get the ball to him in dangerous areas but it wasn't to be."


O'Neill may have to pick up the phone to a striker over the weekend as Murphy also hobbled off towards the end with a calf complaint. Robbie Keane has been ruled out of Tuesday's meeting with Slovakia but  Jon Walters will be available, yet the shortage in that department was illustrated by the fact that James McClean was sent in as a replacement striker in the final minutes when Long was called ashore.

He was one of Ireland's better players on the night and McCarthy showcased his ability in his cameo. As the clock ticked towards the 90th minute, the white shirts attempted to summon up a last effort in search of parity. Randolph did endure one nervous moment that culminated with a deflected daisycutter from Swiss sub Shani Tarashaj bobbling past the post.

They weren't banging the door down, though, despite enjoying periods in possession and their boss Vladimir Petkovic had no complaints with the outcome. Another Irish goal would have put a flattering look on the scoreline and O'Kane nearly provided it on the counter with a right-footer that he curled wide.

In the end, it didn't matter. In time, we'll find out if this fixture did.

Irish Independent

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