John Giles - Ireland have been cloaked in fear since Vienna victory
Read John Giles every week in The Herald
FEAR is the greatest enemy for Ireland over the next four days but Martin O’Neill and his players have nothing to be afraid of against Moldova tonight. Get that game right and they can carry momentum to Wales.
Since that excellent win over Austria in Vienna last November, Ireland have been cloaked in fear, which is best illustrated by the approach to Georgia in Tbilisi and the consequences which followed.
After giving ground to the Georgians following an early lead, I think it was obvious to everyone watching that the players backed themselves into a corner and allowed a weaker team to dominate them.
This didn’t happen by accident. The evidence available on the pitch told me that O’Neill’s message to the players was not one of encouragement to be positive.
It was a cautious team selection which left Wes Hoolahan on the bench and handed Georgia midfield. I saw no sign that O’Neill had encouraged his players to get on the ball and play.
Most footballers need that. Very few generate their own standard and automatically attack a game in a positive frame of mind, always believing that they are good enough to win.
Mostly, it’s up to the manager to lead and generate the feeling that the team can beat anyone. With Ireland, the best performances usually come when there’s nothing to lose and instructions become irrelevant.
This has happened too often to be a coincidence. Against Germany three years ago, Ireland found a way to win because they had to.
Go back further and the same happened in Paris under Giovanni Trapattoni, although Ireland fell short in the end in a very controversial fashion. Fast forward again to Lille and the win over Italy for another example of how Irish players rise to meet a challenge when the chips are down.
The key to all of this, for me, is to take each game on its own merits. Every game of football has ebb and flow, moments of pressure and a relentless series of decisions which must be made. Every game is different.
But if you encourage players to use their talent positively and create an atmosphere of trust, you can approach every game in the same confident way.
Take Pep Guardiola as an example. There are no home or away games for him. He tells his players to play the same way in every match and he does that by taking responsibility for their failures.
Matt Busby was like that too. If you made a mistake trying to do something positive, he didn’t take out the stick. Instead, he told you to keep at it, to keep trying the same things.
Funnily enough, Don Revie was more cautious and there were games Leeds drew that I felt we could have won had we kept going, kept pushing instead of falling back behind a defensive line.
Each manager has his own approach and results dictate whether he is seen as successful or not.
For tonight’s game, I’d like to see an Ireland team on the front foot, attacking a weaker opponent and as ever, Wes Hoolahan is the best option to spark that kind of performance.
My team would be: Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward; McGeady, Arter, Meyler, Hendrick; Hoolahan; Long.
I think there’s a nice balance to that team, with Hoolahan in a free role, but we will have to see what O’Neill thinks closer to kick-off time.
There has been a good deal of talk about Scott Hogan and Seán Maguire as possible heroes in waiting but two crunch World Cup qualifiers are not really the time to blood new players and O’Neill will look to Daryl Murphy before he risks either of them.
Maguire certainly looks like he has the goal touch and has had a good, solid start to his professional career with Preston.
Hogan is a bit of a mystery to me and, I suspect, to everyone else. It would be asking a lot for him to make his international debut with so much at stake.
I’ve avoided saying anything about the Wales game on Monday simply because Ireland must beat Moldova first or Cardiff will mean nothing.
Wales have lost Gareth Bale and are in action in Tbilisi this evening so I’d like to see that result before thinking too hard about what might happen next week.
They must beat Georgia and they are in exactly the same position as Ireland now so I don’t expect Chris Coleman to take a cautious approach.
I expect them to attack and even without Bale, I think they will win.
Once Ireland do their stuff at the Aviva that will set up a winner-takes-all game in Cardiff which will be played with one eye on qualifiers happening elsewhere.
That’s the one aspect of the whole situation which O’Neill and his players cannot control but to be in a position to take full advantage should the right results fall for Ireland, the shackles must come off.
I believe they will. I know players and I know that this group of lads has dug deep before. They know how to do it and they know that there can be no half-measures against Moldova.