Saturday 19 October 2019

Jeff spares Irish blushes

McCarthy gets a win but admits Ireland didn't play well despite tough conditions in Gibraltar

Jeff Hendrick celebrates against Gibraltar
Jeff Hendrick celebrates against Gibraltar

Colin Young

Mick McCarthy returned to take charge of the Republic of Ireland with a win but admitted that he "hated every minute" of his new team's 1-0 triumph in Gibraltar last night.

Jeff Hendrick's well-taken winner was enough for the new-look McCarthy side to secure a Euro 2020 qualifying group win on the artificial pitch in Gibraltar's Victoria Stadium.

But Ireland struggled to create many openings in the first game of McCarthy's second reign on the controversial surface and in windy conditions which the Ireland head coach described as "horrible".

Although Gibraltar goalkeeper Kyle Goldwin made a couple of important stops when the visitors did create, Darren Randolph pulled off a superb one-handed stop to keep out Roy Chipolina's header one minute into the second half. Ireland captain Seamus Coleman described it as a world-class save.

Ireland now face Georgia on Tuesday at the Aviva Stadium. Georgia opened their qualifying campaign with a 2-0 home defeat to Switzerland yesterday and McCarthy will expect a much-improved performance from his team.

But speaking after the narrow win in the shadow of The Rock, McCarthy admitted he was just relieved to be heading into his Dublin return with three points.

"It was a horrible game," he said. "I did not enjoy one single minute of it. Gibraltar had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I knew what it would be like. We were never going to complain about the pitch.

"The wind was blowing a gale, the surface was difficult but there are no excuses, we didn't play well. The only way to build momentum is by winning games. We've only got eight games in the campaign, so I'd take the same again if we get a 1-0 win.

"This was set up for an upset, playing on plastic, blowing a gale and against a good team that done alright. It was set up. I said to my staff that you turn up, you win, you get three points and then you can whinge all you want. But I'm not inclined to do that.

"Let's give that team that played against us credit, because they were particularly stubborn. I hope they play like that against everyone. It's up to them to come here and win just like we did."

Coleman admitted that Ireland, who had not scored in their previous four games under Martin O'Neill, were nervous against the part-timers from Gibraltar, who won their first international matches in the Nations League against Armenia and Liechtenstein last year.

"Darren's save was unbelievable, a world-class save, I turned around and I thought it was in, he pops his hand out of nowhere and keeps it out," said the Everton player, who won his 50th cap last night. "I think we are coming to expect that from Darren from the last campaign where he pulled off some unbelievable saves. We are lucky to have him as he is a top-class 'keeper.

"Any time you play for your country is a great feeling but that was tough. You don't want to be making excuses as the conditions were the same for them but the wind wasn't great and the pitch was difficult. I still feel we could have got it down a bit better at times, at 1-0 up we were a bit nervous at times, but it was all about getting out of here with three points and we are looking to Georgia now."

The 30-year-old Donegal native believes Ireland can play considerably better on Tuesday.

"We're looking forward to getting back to our home fans at the Aviva, the atmosphere will be good and it will be nice to put our foot on the ball a bit, try and enjoy it more than we did in tough conditions, but Georgia are a very good side, they are improving every year, the games are getting harder and harder."

Meanwhile, McCarthy conceded that the decision to play Matt Doherty on the right wing, to accommodate both the Wolves star and captain Coleman, didn't work.

"Not particularly, if he is a full-back more often you are coming from behind," McCarthy said of Doherty. "I said he has been the best attacking right wing-back in the Premier League. It didn't work today. Maybe there wasn't much room in behind them when they sit in.

"Does he have the box of tricks to get past people? Probably not. I don't think having changed it and put Robbie (Brady) on, does he look completely match-fit? Would he have lasted 90 minutes? I don't think so."

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