'We dominated tonight'- Wes Hoolahan credits manager for improved Irish showing
Man of the match Wes Hoolahan has said that the message from Martin O’Neill prior to Ireland’s 2-2 draw with Slovakia tonight was to play with more ambition than they had when beating Switzerland.
Following Ireland’s often disjointed display against the Swiss on Friday, it was evident in O’Neill’s team selection for this evening’s Slovakian mission that he wanted to see more composure and ball retention.
By selecting Hoolahan, Eunan O’Kane and James McCarthy, as part of 10 changes, the Derry man certainly got what he wanted. Abandoning the 4-4-2 system which failed to adequately trouble the Swiss, the former Celtic boss reverted to a midfield diamond formation.
Miroslav Stoch put Slovakia ahead but Ireland won two penalties in quick succession, which were converted by Shane Long and James McClean, before an OG from Paul McShane levelled the tie just prior to the break.
Even in failing to win, the performances of O’Kane, Hoolahan, Cyrus Christie and the energy of the aforementioned goal scorers ensured Ireland looked a far more inventive outfit than four nights ago.
But, like so many occasions in the recent past, it was the craft and guile of the waif-like Hoolahan that was most prominent. The Norwich playmaker paid homage to his teammates and the manager.
“It was nice to get on the ball and kind of play with two up front and get in the middle,”he told Setanta Sports.
“Shane (Long) and James (McClean) played really well and opened up the space for me. Then Glenn (Whelan), James (McCarthy) and Eunan (O'Kane) giving the ball quickly in the middle; it was nice to have a lot of time on the ball.
“The gaffer said before the game to try and keep the ball a bit better tonight, pass it more and create chances. I thought we did that tonight and, in the first half, were really dominant.”
Despite his fine showing, Hoolahan largely downplayed his role tonight, but said the confidence to be gained from the latest two results are valuable ahead of a busy summer.
“I just try to get on the ball and try to bring players into the game and it worked out with the two goals from Shane and James.
“We have an important few months ahead of us now. It’s nice to come away with a win and draw and keep the momentum going, and look forward to playing Holland and Belarus before we head over to France.”