Friday 19 January 2018

Stephen Hunt: Experienced Irish should not have been reduced to such desperate measures

'James McClean doesn’t have to be the hero all the time'. Photo: Sportsfile
'James McClean doesn’t have to be the hero all the time'. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

If there is one thing that will have hurt and disappointed Martin O'Neill more than anything from the Serbia defeat, it is that we looked like a desperate side for the last five minutes. But we are not. This team has shown, like against Italy, that they are a quality side.

And we are travelling to Wales next month. We are not playing in Italy, France, Germany or Spain. Remember that. It's Wales. We should be going there with confidence, expecting to win.

Ireland need to get the job done against Moldova, and they cannot afford to go into it believing the game against the bottom team is already won. Wales didn't score until late on against them and it will not be straightforward. But I expect us to win and take the feel-good factor to Cardiff.

While there was a significant improvement from the Georgia game against Serbia, we still need to improve further against Wales. In many ways, because we looked so much better, the Serbia game was even more disappointing. We didn't create enough and that will be even more frustrating for the manager.

Unfortunately, you get performances like the draw in Georgia and you have to deal with the criticism and move on. No matter what people say, players don't mind being criticised when it is justified and if they know they have played badly.

That criticism will have fired them up for Serbia and, for all the improvement, they know they can be better. The bigger alarm bells are probably ringing after the second game because we looked desperate at times, not making the right decisions.

I have been in a desperate team and it is not easy. You find yourself doing the wrong things because you are so eager to find an opening and saying to yourself, 'What am I doing?' There were a few times I looked at the team and asked that question.

Such as when James McClean was taking the ball off the 'keeper in the last 10 minutes. I am not singling him out, as McClean was in the top two or three Ireland players on the night, but the way he played in the last quarter of the game made no sense.

We had Shane Duffy, Daryl Murphy, Jon Walters and Shane Long all needing a ball into the area at an angle. If you have the big boys up front you want the best angle and height on the ball up the field. It is like a 70-yard chip in golf where you can't put enough spin on it - but can't hit it too hard either. You often get caught between the two and that certainly happened to McClean.

He was trying to play at left-back, right-back, left-wing, right-wing, and then running through the middle where it is impossible to play the right type of cross at the right angle.

We are not going to be a team like Spain that passes the ball to death and teams retreat all the time because we have to keep the ball. That last 10 minutes needed the long ball with McClean looking to get the knock-downs at the edge of the area instead of playing them. Darren Randolph could have done what McClean was doing. He doesn't have to be the hero all the time.

It just didn't look good. It looked desperate but this team is not a desperate team. They have played in pressure situations. They have responded and beaten Italy in the European Championships. They should be able to blank out the wrong decision-making.

Wales were the more nervous team in Dublin because they were chasing the game but now it has changed and we will be chasing them.

The Ireland players have that win over Italy to draw belief from. And they can feed off the Ireland fans because nervous Welsh fans at home will be the key. It's a great shame that so many of the Green Army will miss out as the game will be played at Cardiff City's ground with its 33,000 seats - rather than the excellent Millennium Stadium with more than double that capacity.

But we have to remember we are not playing one of the big names of world football. It's Wales. There is no fear factor. So if I was McClean, I would be fancying coming up against Chris Gunter, just the same as if I was Brady against Davies, Walters against Williams. We match up across the pitch. The big question will be: can we keep the main man quiet?

Sunday Indo Sport

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