Monday 23 April 2018

'O'Neill not to blame for failure to win in Georgia' - Walters

Walters puts the onus on Irish players to find redemption, writes Liam Kelly

Jonathan Walters. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Walters. Photo: Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Jon Walters has said the onus is firmly on the players to lift the nation's gloom over the draw in Georgia on Saturday night.

Walters wants to leave the 1-1 result in the statistics book and focus solely on a resurgence of the traditional Irish fighting spirit against Serbia at the Aviva Stadium tonight.

He's certainly not leaving Martin O'Neill, Roy Keane and the backroom team out on a limb, despite a welter of criticism from fans, media, and social media platforms for the manner in which the Republic team handed the initiative to Georgia after scoring an early goal.

O'Neill's tetchy responses to legitimate questions posed by RTÉ's Tony O'Donoghue after the match did not impress the watching public and pundits.

But yesterday, in the pre-game media conference, Walters insisted the players, and not the manager, must take responsibility for their failings on Saturday.

"We're all responsible out there. There's only so much the staff and the manager can do off the pitch.

"It's down to us on the pitch. We've got to recognise certain situations on the pitch, and deal with them. We didn't do so well in the first half against Georgia, but it can happen in games where we've dominated possession and battered teams without creating the chances we did the other night.

"Sometimes that's just how games go. As players on the pitch, everyone has to take responsibility," said Walters.

Motivation against the Serbs will not be a problem as opportunity knocks to atone for a lacklustre showing after a great start courtesy of Shane Duffy's first goal for his country.

If they do, as has happened in memorable performances such as the home wins over Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina en route to the Euro 2016 finals, Serbia are in for a torrid time at the Aviva Stadium.

"The supporters have been first class since I've been here, especially at home if we can get on the front foot.

"We've seen the atmosphere we can create as players. It's hard playing in games sometimes where you give up possession, and sometimes it's hard to watch.

"But if we can get on the front foot, make teams make mistakes, press them high, that suits us probably a bit better," said Walters.

All of that and more will be required if Serbia are to be toppled from their perch as Group D leaders.

The tension is sure to crackle all around the packed stadium, and the Irish fans will take every opportunity to roar their support if the team set the tempo and pressurise Serbia from the start.

It's essentially a cup final situation, and Walters is up for the challenge.

"As a player you relish the biggest occasions," he said.

"You ask any player, they want to play on the highest stage possible.

"Sometimes it seems to suit us that our back is against the wall. Serbia at home, two points behind them, it certainly is.

"If we come out fighting like we have done in previous games, we've got a great chance."

Defender Cyrus Christie, who is proving a capable deputy for injured Irish skipper Seamus Coleman, echoed Walters's sentiments about looking ahead and not in the rear-view mirror.

"You want to move on as quickly as you can after games like this.

"The game is coming quick and fast, and we need to recover and look to where we can move on, go into the Serbia game and try to win it," he said.

Christie aims to take care of his primary duties in defence and then raid forward as often as possible to help create openings deep in the Serbian half.

The Middlesbrough defender takes heart from the strength the team has shown in adversity in past qualifying games.

"Of course we can beat them," Christie said.

"We have seen what we can do.

"We have beaten many a bigger team over the course of our campaigns, but we have to put on a performance .

"We need to control the game better. We didn't play too much football against Georgia, did not control the game, so we have to have a bit more belief on the ball.

"We have got it in our locker to do that.

"We know that we have to win this game and stake our place in the group."

Irish Independent

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