Sunday 19 November 2017

Rub of the green glosses over patchy display

Crucial victory fails to mask Ireland's shortcomings, writes Richard Sadlier

I T was a victory which put Ireland level on points at the top of Group B. However, the performance will have people wondering how they have managed to get there.

According to Trapattoni, the performance, the result and his team selection made him very happy. For the crowd of a little over 33,000, it may not have been quite the same experience, as once again, it was pretty difficult to watch.

Darron Gibson was in the side ahead of Paul Green due to his ability to shoot from distance. Trapattoni's instructions to all the attacking players prior to kick-off was to do likewise, and it became apparent early on that this policy would bring much success. Aiden McGeady's shot should have been comfortably saved, but Macedonian 'keeper Edin Nuredinoski gave the first indication of what was to come.

Robbie Keane was included despite much public debate about his lack of games this season and his own admission that he was far from match-fit. There are no levels of excitement or adrenaline which can compensate for the sharpness and timing which only come with playing competitive games on a regular basis. At Friday's press conference, Trapattoni was asked to explain the basis for Keane's inclusion in the starting line-up.

It took only 21 minutes for Keane to give the answer. Showing little signs of rustiness, he was first to react in the box to score the 46th goal of his international career. Again, it came from a mistake by Nuredinoski.

McGeady was excellent at times, Gibson's influence faded as the game wore on, and Shane Long worked tirelessly with little success. Keane will be pleased he got through so much of the game but, like so many of his team-mates, he was nowhere near his best.

Keiren Westwood impressed on his competitive debut, Richard Dunne was below par, and Damien Duff failed to reproduce the form he is showing at club level.

Trapattoni was confident in his assertion prior to the game that the Macedonians would only ever be a threat from set-pieces. As early as the fifth minute, an impressive run by Goran Pandev suggested they were capable of a lot more.

Ivan Trickovski confirmed as much just before half-time, turning Richard Dunne in the box to pull one back. It was not completely undeserved, but what should have been a comfortable half-time discussion might well have been a little more anxious.

Boban Grncharov's high challenge on Shane Long should have lead to a red card. The assistant referee was close by and in an ideal position to make the right call, but both he and the referee failed to do so.

It is unusual to hear a manager announce an intended substitution several days before a game, but on Tuesday afternoon, Trapattoni revealed his intention to definitely involve James McCarthy at some point.

So many things can influence a decision to make a change, none of which are known four days before kick-off. Having had to make a change so early in the game to replace Kevin Doyle, coupled with the unease of much of the second-half performance, it seemed plausible there would be no sign of McCarthy at any stage.

With four minutes remaining, the loudest cheer of the evening greeted his arrival. The debate about his international allegiance came to an end at last.

As entertainment it would have left very few impressed, but the manager has never once adopted a style of play which has paid any attention to this. He may not have the players at his disposal to dramatically change his approach, but his post-match comments suggest he has no intention of ever doing so. He emphasised the reasons to be happy and said Ireland controlled much of the game.

After last night, he claimed the performance was exactly what he would have liked. There are many others who would point to the contribution of the Macedonian goalkeeper, without whom there would have been far less for Trapattoni to feel quite so pleased about. This Irish side has been criticised for lacking an inventive edge, but for much of this game they had little edge at all. It was Macedonia who looked the more likely to score throughout the second half.

At the half-way point in the group, there is no team with more points than Ireland. Despite the negativity which surrounds how they play, that's all that will matter to anyone in the Ireland dressing room.

Sunday Indo Sport

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