John Aldridge: 'There was one glaring weak spot as Ireland crashed to defeat in Switzerland'
IRELAND’S final ball in the attacking third was the one glaring weak spot as we slipped to our first defeat in Euro 2020 qualifying last night in Switzerland, but I will not give up hope on our qualifying push just yet.
The suspension of Seamus Coleman after last night’s battle in Geneva is arguably as damaging as the 2-0 defeat, as he has been vital for this Ireland team and he will be missed.
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Yet, amid our collective disappointment, I don’t think we should tear into a manager or a team of battlers who gave everything and more until they were finally beaten by that late second Switzerland goal.
Those Ireland players didn’t shirk challenges, they showed real passion for the cause and even if they are not quite good enough to get anything out of a decent Swizerland team, we should not hammer them for giving their all.
There will be criticism of the Ireland team for their lack of invention and their struggles to hang on to the ball. I can understand that, but I don’t think you can be too negative about the team that pulled on the green-and-white jersey last night.
We have known for a long time that we lack quality midfielders and forwards who nick you a point in these tricky away games and while we don’t want to trample over old ground, Robbie Keane or a player of his ilk would have gotten Ireland a point in Geneva.
The final part of the jigsaw that has been such a problem area for us since the departure of our record-scorer Keane remains missing.
Young Aaron Connolly worked his socks off on his full debut last night and he may well be a solution to our scoring problems when he matures and a gets a little more experience, yet I’d give Mick McCarthy credit for what he has achieved with this group of players.
That was our first defeat in this qualifying group and when you remember where Ireland were a year ago in the final days of the Martin O’Neill era, we would all agree the efforts over the last year have been an improvement.
Mick has made the best of the players he has at his disposal and, significantly, the gloom that had descended on the squad under the previous management team has gone.
You can’t go out and sign players at international level and after Mick was accused of being negative in his substitutions and his tactics in the 0-0 draw in Georgia on Saturday, he showed more ambition in Geneva by starting with James Collins and Connolly.
He wanted width from Coleman and James McClean, but one problem area is clearly midfield creativity, which was lacking for long periods.
Ireland struggled to hold on to the ball in the first half, but things improved when Callum O’Dowda came on and you could sense that the Swiss side were getting a little edgy at times in the second half when Ireland ventured forward.
Yet once we lost Coleman late on, it was even more difficult to see Ireland getting back into the game and now it all comes down to the clash against Denmark.
We need to get the Aviva Stadium packed, try to intimidate a Danish side that has not looked great of late and just see what can happen.
Ireland have pulled off some famous wins down the years and we have to hope it could be a night when heroes stand up and guide us to a victory that would give us a route to another major championship.
These are not glory days for Ireland and we are trying to get by with players who are not of the highest quality, so let’s keep some perspective and set some realistic expectations before we go overboard with the criticism.
The reality is we have one game left to play in this qualifying campaign and if we win it, we should go through to the Euro 2020 finals.
Our dreams are not shattered yet.