Tuesday 21 November 2017

Pain of defeat a bitter pill to swallow for the Irish players

Shane Long reacts after defeat to the Serbians at the Aviva in Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Shane Long reacts after defeat to the Serbians at the Aviva in Dublin. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The pain and disappointment of a losing result on home soil was etched in the face of Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark at the final whistle of a pulsating World Cup tie.

Clark and his comrades had dug deep into their reserves of pride and patriotism to take this crucial tie to the Serbs right from the start.

Aided by the team selection which brought Wes Hoolahan and David Meyler into the side, and with a rich vein of determination running through every player, the Irish fought gallantly to try and claw their way has the Group D leaders.

Who could believe that assault after assault on the Serbian defence in the last 20 minutes could fail to yield a goal?

This Irish side which has made something of a tradition of launching spirited fight backs in the second half of competitive matches, for once, kept the pedal to the floor from the first minute.

Ironically, and sadly for our hopes of qualifying for the finals in Russia next year, a wholeheartedly consistent effort came to nought as Serbia's Alexsander Kolarov plundered the only goal of the game.

That was hard to take for the players. Clark could only shake his head in wonder at the vagaries of football.

He was far from amused as he said: "Football is funny.

"We didn't play our best in the first game against Georgia, but we managed to come away with a point.

"Tonight I thought we were well in the game for long periods, especially towards the end of it.

"We made lots of chances and did all we could to break them down, but it wasn't to be.

"We're obviously very disappointed but I think we can take a lot of credit from our performance," he said.

The team have slipped to third place in the Group D table behind Serbia and Wales and now can only pick themselves up for the remaining challenges at home to Moldova on October 6 and way to Wales on October 9.

Clark and the rest of the Irish players are not going to wave the white flag of surrender until all chances of reaching a playoff for qualification have gone.

"We'll keep our heads up and we'll be fighting hard to get points in the next two games.

"We knew it was a 'must win game' and that was our attitude going out on the pitch.

"I don't think we could have done any more.

"We left everything on the pitch and just couldn't get that key chance we needed in the end," he said.

Clark's fellow central defender Shane Duffy was sure he had put the Irish ahead when he got the ball in the Serbian net, but it was ruled out for offside.

Replays showed the decision was correct, but Duffy was confident that an Irish goal would come at some stage.

It didn't happen and the big Derryman had a feeling of disbelief that Serbia got away with three points from Dublin.

"I thought we were in control from the first minute.

"The energy was good all over the pitch but a little bit of sloppiness allowed them in and it was a great strike (by Kolarov).

"It was disappointing because that's the level we're at.

"We probably should have taken the chance when we were on top.

"We started the second half well and it was just one of them things that they caught us against the run of play.

"It was disappointing that we couldn't get in at the end, especially with the penalty.

"Daryl says he was pushed because otherwise it was a free header.

"We're as disappointed as everyone, " said Duffy.

Serbian skipper Branislav Ivanovic was very relieved. "I know how Premier League football works, but this was the toughest I have ever played against.

"It was a duel all around the pitch, definitely the toughest game we have played so far in the group.

"I am very proud we showed the courage to come out with the three points," he said.

Irish Independent

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