Saturday 24 February 2018

Old failings return to haunt Trap

Ireland 2 Austria 2

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A painfully familiar conclusion at Lansdowne Road, with Ireland inviting trouble and finding it on an evening which promised so much.

They were seconds away from securing victory, but they played with fire by defending deep and relinquishing possession, thus laying the foundations for David Alaba's injury-time effort which took a sharp deflection off Sean St Ledger on its way past David Forde.

A return of two points from the last week's endeavours is deeply deflating, but while Trapattoni stressed that it isn't the end of the world, it certainly felt like it. "We are in the same position as before," stressed the Irish boss.

Ireland's wait for a truly significant home victory under the Italian goes on and what this draw means is that they will simply have to deliver it when Sweden come to town in September.

Austria are now level with Trapattoni's men and the Swedes on eight points, and believe they are very much part of the play-off shake-up now, with Germany already a further eight points ahead and Brazil-bound.


Their Vienna meeting with the Swedes on June 7, the same night that the Faroes come to Dublin, may determine who Ireland have to be really worried about when the reverse double-header comes around in September. Firstly, they have to resolve their own issues.

Trapattoni's men lacked the conviction to see this one out, and the manager's decision to take off the outstanding Shane Long and introduce Paul Green ahead of Wes Hoolahan will be heavily analysed in the aftermath.

The assurance of the Norwich playmaker would have been welcome in a frenetic conclusion which stemmed from the home side's negativity. The 74-year-old bemoaned Irish messing around a free-kick in the Austrian half, with Green implicated in that post mortem.

"We lost the ball," said Trapattoni, who effectively acknowleged that the opposition deserved the point on the basis of their second-half reaction. "We missed the right experience at that important moment. I brought in Paul because our midfield was suffering. And I think, with the deflection, we were a little bit unlucky."

He feels that his paymasters will be equally understanding. Austria had kicked out of the blocks like a team which had done their homework and pinpointed Irish weaknesses. Russia and Germany came to this venue and succeeded by taking a positive attacking stance boosted by the presence of an extra midfielder.

Ireland started brightly in Sweden but they weren't given time to do so here. Indeed, in contrast with the relatively controlled opening in Stockholm, the modus operandi from the outset was panicked, with James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan immediately getting themselves into trouble in a flustered sequence.

A soft foul allowed the confident Bayern Munich star Alaba to stand up and attempt a long-distance effort that curled dangerously close to the post. It was a worrying start, with the bullish away crowd already greeting each completed pass with an 'Ole'. Meanwhile, there was a sense of foreboding amongst the home contingent, and it wasn't misplaced. Unfortunately, a dreadful Irish mistake was around the corner.

Collecting a pass from the slightly hurried Marc Wilson, Ciaran Clark attempted to turn away from Zlatko Junuzovic, but the Werder Breman man anticipated it, just like Edin Dzeko did in the build-up to Manchester City's winner at Villa Park earlier this month.

Clark could only watch as his howler led to another goal, with Junuzovic advancing and squaring for the recalled Martin Harnik, who poked the ball past Forde. Disaster.

To their credit, the Irish responded. James McClean, who was often double-teamed, threatened with a pair of dangerous crosses. He was having more joy than Seamus Coleman, who was being pegged back on the other side by left-winger Marco Arnautovic; he positioned himself high up the park, meaning that the Everton man was bound by defensive responsibilities.

McCarthy was bright in this period, however, and after being encouraged to add more bite to his game in the preliminaries, he responded out of frustration, receiving a yellow for a tackle on Junuzovic that other officials might have greeted with a red. The chirpy Austrian boss Marcel Koller said afterwards that McCarthy received the appropriate punishment.

Junuzovic required lengthy treatment before the medics decided that he could not continue; by the time he was replaced, Ireland were waiting to take a penalty. The genesis was a break by the liberated Whelan, who threaded through towards Long, who had to pick up the speed to keep the ball in play at the right side of the Austrian area and flicked inside as he attempted to do so, a move that outfoxed the pedestrian Emanuel Pogatetz, who brought him down.

The Croatian official pointed to the spot and the courageous Jon Walters stepped up to drill past Heinz Linder.

Energy coursed through Irish veins. From the front, Long was providing a genuine outlet and Conor Sammon was causing some problems too, albeit with less end product.

McClean bravely continued to persist on the left and it was his presence that almost created a lead goal with a deflected cross-cum-shot falling for Long, whose clever backheel rebounded off the post. There were five minutes until the break at that juncture and the Irish continued to press, winning a series of corners before they grabbed the lead.

McClean's endeavour won the opportunity, Whelan swung it across and his Stoke buddy Walters brushed away Austrian captain Christian Fuchs and nodded accurately towards the bottom corner with the inside of the post helping the ball on its way for his fourth international goal.

It was the perfect tonic for the natives who had to cope with a mini-snowstorm on top of the freezing temperatures; they were off their feet again immediately after the resumption when Sammon's scrapping earned a free that McClean lifted over the wall and into the side-netting.

But Austria reacted well, with Harnik forcing a save from Forde and then full-back Gyorgy Garics not far off with a volley. With half an hour remaining, Koller sent in the experience of Marc Janko to replace Philipp Hosiner. Now presented with an aerial outlet, Austria probed again, with a Fuchs thunderbolt deflected behind.

But the pendulum temporarily swung to the other end, with another Long burst instigating a pair of corners; Garics almost put through his own goal from the first, with Linder saving brilliantly, before Wilson nodded the wrong side of the post.

As the clock ticked past 70 minutes, the green shirts were dropping back further and further, as St Ledger came in for the injured Clark.

Austria were given encouragement by the Irish retreat.

Long was surprisingly withdrawn, with Green brought in to add weight to midfield, but the ball was given away cheaply when wiser heads would have kept hold of it.

Still, as the game entered injury-time, Austria were struggling to find a clear path for a strike on goal. Sadly, one chance was enough.

Irish Independent

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