Monday 23 September 2019

Republic of Ireland cling on for draw as goal drought continues in poor display against Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland 0 Northern Ireland 0

15 November 2018; Darragh Lenihan of the Republic of Ireland in action against Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley of Northern Ireland during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
15 November 2018; Darragh Lenihan of the Republic of Ireland in action against Jonny Evans and Gareth McAuley of Northern Ireland during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

John Brennan

When your goalkeeper is Man of the Match you know you have got problems.

Darren Randolph was rightly given the gong for two excellent stops that saved the Republic of Ireland from defeat at the Aviva Stadium in this friendly against Northern Ireland - but the rest of his team-mates put in the shift that has become their 2018 trademark, plenty of perspiration, no inspiration.

Ireland have now played five internationals this season - and scored two goals. One of them, against Wales, was a proper consolation job when the other team had stopped playing.

Only Aiden O'Brien's goal against Poland in September, that almost produced a win in Wroclaw, was a score than meant anything. It really is becoming a massive issue - for the Boys in Green never truly looked like scoring here.

But then we never tried that hard to score. As two shocking results such as those should have done, the 5-1 defeat to Denmark and the 4-1 shellacking in Cardiff are now the games that clearly govern Martin O'Neill's thinking.

There's no other reason to explain Ireland playing in a 3-5-1-1 formation in a home friendly. The Aviva Stadium was poorly attended for this one and attendances are only going to get worse if this is the fare served up by the Boys in Green.

The extra defender does give a bit of defensive solidity, but takes away from anything Ireland might do in attack.

After a year's absence through injury, the accurate set-piece deliveries of Robbie Brady were on call and the Burnley man did sling in a few that troubled the exotically-named Northern Ireland goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell.

But, three centre-halves or not, it was the visitors who had the better chances and Darren Randolph in Ireland's goal made a wonderful save with his leg in the 14th minute to deny Gavin Whyte the opening goal.

And right on the blow of half-time Northern Ireland debutant Michael Smith skimmed Randolph's crossbar with a fine drive.

Glenn Whelan was given a deserved round of applause as he departed the international scene after 30 minutes and slowly but surely Ireland cranked into life.

Seamus Coleman began to make forays down the right wing and James McClean, still booed by the Northern Ireland supporters, was active down the left.

However a clear-cut chance remained stubbornly elusive. Martin O'Neill may bemoan the absence of a Robbie Keane-type goalscorer in Ireland's ranks, but there's no one making a chance, never mind taking it.

McClean was taken off in the 66th minute, a reflection of the fact that he is suspended for the Danish game in Aarhus next week.

But still Martin O'Neill's team were struggling to get going against Michael O'Neill's side and Smith had another chance to score after a howler by Darragh Lenihan. Again, Randolph's long legs saved Ireland.

Boos rang around the Aviva at the final whistle, those who had turned up clearly unhappy at Martin O'Neill, his team and his tactics who had just 40% possession in a home match against opposition at our own level. The manager has a lot of work to do before the Euro qualifiers commence in March. And not many training sessions in which to do it. 

Those 2,000 who had come to see Michael O'Neill's side were happy with their lot. They got a lot more out of this poor 90 minutes.

Online Editors

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