Sport Soccer

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Steven Reid: Green given the wrong role as lack of old heads proves costly in flawed bid to close game out

Going into the last 10 minutes of a game like Tuesday's, the last thing you need is to drop deeper and deeper – it simply invites pressure on to yourself.

I can understand how it happens, particularly when you are on a poor run of form and are under pressure as Ireland were on Tuesday night. Players can become nervy and the doubt creeps into their minds that they are going to concede.

There is a difference when you are on a good run of form or when you're confident; it can feel like the opposition is never going to score.

That is how it felt when West Brom won at Anfield this season. We were a goal up and scored a second in injury-time to seal the win.

The right mentality is required. The back four has to play a part in stopping the team getting too deep, while those up the pitch must also be brave and attempt to keep the ball as well.

If you have possession, the opposition can't score. It sounds simple, but it's true.

Too often in the second half against Austria, the ball was given away cheaply. That is when tiredness comes in, playing on a big, heavy pitch. It was crying out for a change.

In the teams that I have played in, when we'd find ourselves defending a lead with a small amount of time to go, we'd usually bring on a wide player – for instance at West Brom, someone like Marc-Antoine Fortune – to make sure you have a decent shape, to ensure that you have legs in that area and to back up the defence and the full-back.

FRESHER LEGS

You will often take off an attacking player and bring on a player with fresher legs or a midfield player to protect the back four.

I don't think bringing Paul Green on was the wrong decision by Giovanni Trapattoni.

But when he came in, I thought he would slot into the middle and provide extra physicality and pressure in that area.

I found it strange that he took up a position on the right. He should have been at the heart of things, winning balls around the Irish box – and that is from where the late equalising goal was scored.

If there was an extra body there when the ball fell to David Alaba, there might have been pressure on the ball and the Bayern Munich man would have had limited time to shoot.

Another key factor is experience. You need players who know how to shut a game off, to play the ball in the right areas and keep it in the right parts of the pitch.

Communication is key. At West Brom, we are quite a vocal team, especially at the back. We give a lot of information from behind, belting out instructions to the players in front of us to get into the right positions, screaming at them.

In our back four, Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley and I have all been around for a long time and have that experience.

When you are playing in midfield, you are relying on those around you for communications.

So, it is a combination of things, communication and a bit of football knowledge, which means putting the ball in the right areas and keeping it in those areas.

RIGHT DECISION

But Ireland, as a whole, didn't have the experience to see the game out. We needed to get hold of the ball in the right areas, win a free-kick, a throw-in or a corner to take the pressure off.

If it goes up to Robbie Keane in the right area, the one thing you know is that he'll keep it and make the right decision. Both he and Richard Dunne were missed.

Maybe on Tuesday, the decision-making wasn't quite there and, if there were more senior lads who have been in that situation before, it might have helped.

I can understand the nerves the young players would have felt; they were in a position where they were desperate for a win and a goal up with a minute to go.

The lads are getting a decent run of games and are gaining from these experiences. James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman looked promising in the Sweden and Austria clashes and the more games they get, the more they will improve.

We have reached the stage where the senior boys are moving on and Robbie looks like he will be the last man standing whenever he chooses to step aside.

It is up to this new batch to carry things forward and matches like the Austria draw will go a long way to giving them that big-game experience and mentality they need.

No doubt, the group remains alive, but qualification is a big ask.

Of all the games in the group, Tuesday was the one I felt Ireland had to win.

On paper, getting that group runner-up spot is achievable, but it is a tough task now to go away to Austria and Germany and take on Sweden at home and get wins out of two of these games.

We could live to regret that lack of experience in the final throes on Tuesday night.

Irish Independent

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