Saturday 16 December 2017

Keane edge cuts through dogged Faroes

Ireland 3 Faroe Islands 0

Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane with the match ball after the game.
Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane with the match ball after the game.
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni during the FIFA World Cup Qualifying match at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland.
Richard Dunne has to watch the action from the bench
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE three points were expected, but the haul of three goals a disappointment given the work there is to do in that department if the race for second goes to the wire.

THE three points were expected, but the haul of three goals a disappointment given the work there is to do in that department if the race for second goes to the wire.

Robbie Keane gave the crowd something to smile about, though, with the newly crowned record caps holder nabbing the second international hat-trick of his career to move on to the 59-goals mark and into the top five in the all-time European goalscoring list.

Come September, there will invariably be further debate about where he fits into the system for the vital fixtures that will determine Ireland's World Cup fate, yet this was an evening which illustrated the value of his experience. Where others dawdled, he stepped up, sensing weakness in a poor opponent and striking with intent.

They didn't make a huge fuss about Keane on the pitch before the game, but he rightly gathered the acclaim afterwards, and Trapattoni showered praise on his talisman in the aftermath.

"Maybe people might have expected five, six, seven goals from this game but it's not that easy," said the manager, "But Robbie is a great player, the best Irish player I've known in the last 30 years and I still think he is one of the best in Europe."

A draw in Vienna would have made it a perfect day for management, but Austria's win there changes the complexion of the race for second spot, although a home win was preferable to success for Sweden. There are lengthy permutations but, in simple terms, it means that Ireland simply have to take three points from the visit of the Scandinavians to Dublin in September. And, of course, it hammers home just how painful David Alaba's late equaliser in March could prove in the long run.

Trapattoni made that point afterwards. "That silly, silly mistake," he sighed, but he was happy enough that Sweden had dropped points; their inevitable win over the Faroes this Tuesday shall leave a three-way tie for the play-off spot going into September.

It would be a huge surprise if anything that happened in this game shapes his approach for the defining double header. Trapattoni dealt with the usual range of queries about Wes Hoolahan in his post-match debrief, with the popular Norwich man impressing in the centre of a 4-4-2, as only one holding player, Glenn Whelan, was required to cope with modest opposition.

"He can play there again if we have two strong wingers," suggested Trapattoni. It would represent a complete rethink of the 74-year-old's football philosophy if he selected Hoolahan in a midfield two in the autumn. Still, this positive contribution might increase his prospects of becoming the go-to Plan B. Small steps.

DEADLOCK

After breaking the deadlock within five minutes, it briefly looked as though Ireland would run riot, yet they found it more complicated than that. As expected, an understrength Faroes side came with the intention of shutting up shop, hoping they could frustrate the natives before the interval like they did in Torshavn last October. Their mission started poorly.

Fittingly, it was a goal from Keane that sent Ireland on their way. The catalyst was Hoolahan, who advanced 30 yards out and released Aiden McGeady, who squared for the captain. Keane did the rest and cartwheeled away in celebration.

To their credit, the Faroese dug in for the period that followed as Ireland went in search of another, with a wall of blue shirts camped ahead and the temptation to go direct was sometimes taken. However, Hoolahan continued to probe, and McGeady was consistently dangerous. The front pairing of Keane and Jon Walters frequently dropped back to link play in an attempt to find a hole, and clever interaction between the pair concluded with a brave Jonhard Frederiksberg challenge denying the Stoke man.

Keane should have added his second of the night before the half-hour mark when Walters returned the favour by flicking a well-worked Simon Cox free in his direction but 'keeper Gunnar Nielsen emerged from his line and Keane stuttered. Nielsen duly foiled the Irish number 10 again when he let rip with a thunderous volley following fruitful McGeady endeavour. It was the last Irish opportunity of note before the break, with a 10 minute lull of testimonial-level intensity doing little to enthuse the paying punter.

PURPOSE

Ireland resumed with renewed purpose and began to vary their play a little more, with Seamus Coleman becoming prominent. The much-maligned McGeady continued to threaten, however, and presented Hoolahan with a chance to double the advantage. Alas, the small man timed his jump wrong and his header sailed over the bar.

He made up for it by finding the spark that led to the second, with echoes of the opener as he dropped a shoulder, found a yard of pace to nip away from his marker and play a concise pass for Coleman. The Everton star had the presence to mind to slide the ball into the danger zone, where the grateful Keane was again on hand to collect.

Hopes that it would open the floodgates soon faded as the Faroes found further resolve, and Ireland increasingly emptied the ideas bank. McGeady, who was subsequently replaced by James McClean, again showcased his difficulties with scoring in a green shirt with several attempts blocked. Trapattoni surveyed his 12 substitutes and decided that Conor Sammon was the player who could bring about change, with the industrious Walters called ashore.

After a rocky start, which included the concession of a soft free that led to a half chance for Faroes defender Atli Gregerson, Sammon took the best supporting role in Keane's hat-trick moment. McClean's cross was collected by the Derby man and he spotted a smart run from his captain, with the resultant neat centre confidently converted. If there were more players with the killer instinct of the 32-year-old, the margin of victory would have been far greater.

Irish Independent

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