Saturday 20 January 2018

Steven Reid: Hoolahan's flair in unshackled midfield was a treat to watch

Steven Reid

Steven Reid

THE smiles were back on the faces of the players and the fans, and 3-0 was a very good return from a friendly that wasn't so meaningless.

Normally these games peter out, but not last night.

I know from playing against teams that Martin O'Neill has managed, he keeps urging his players to 'get at them' when in possession, and that's the type of attitude the Irish team displayed last night.

On a personal note, I'm pleased that my pre-match Twitter prediction of 3-0 was accurate, but more seriously, the goals from Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Shane Long were well worked and well taken.

We all wondered what sort of team the manager would put out, and he was true to his word in sending out a side that oozed positivity.

Over the last few months, and particularly towards the end of the Giovanni Trapattoni regime, it became clear that the Irish set-up was crying out for more attacking flair.

I know this was a friendly, and the new manager's first game, but including James McClean, McGeady and Wes Hoolahan in the starting 11 sent the right kind of message.

Of course, it was a poor Latvian team. That's not disrespecting them, it's just being honest, and Ireland could have had three or four goals in the first half.

From early on you could tell we were obviously going to try and play it out from the back.


Glenn Whelan was getting the ball from the few kick-outs that Kieran Westwood had to play, and from there the lads worked the ball around the park.

I liked the way they worked at retaining possession, but it was possession with a purpose, looking to get the ball down, and wide, and opening up the Latvian defence.

In the latter stages of the Trapattoni reign, too often we saw the play going too direct, but Martin O'Neill, on this evidence, will have the lads playing bright, positive football.

Keane had a couple of chances, but took the 62nd goal of his wonderful career in exemplary style.

Credit to Robbie, he continues to offer our greatest goal threat, which is some feat.

There were some question marks about his future, that the 2014 qualifying could have been his last campaign, but it looks as if playing in America could extend his international career.

The Premier League takes a huge toll physically on any player, but in America it's not so demanding.

Robbie looks fresh and bright as ever. Apart from his scoring ability, I'm sure the manager would want Robbie around as long as possible, as much for his presence off the field as on it.

The two Jameses, McClean and McCarthy, are players who can make a very big contribution for O'Neill's Ireland over the next two years.

Each of them has great ability, but there's no doubt they can be even more effective over the long term as they develop their abilities.

McClean saw a lot of the ball down the left side, and probably should have seen a greater return for his efforts.

Being slightly critical, because I feel there's a lot more James can produce, I find when playing against him, he's still a touch predictable.

You expect him to take it down the line outside, and while he's a handful, more often than not that's his preferred option.


When he cuts inside, as he did a couple of times, he can really hurt full-backs, but McClean also needs to produce an end product in that type of situation.

As a full-back, you absolutely hate coming up against wingers who can keep you guessing, and who can drive inside or down the line.

Gareth Bale, the most expensive player in the world, is a great example to any winger.

If McClean can bring more variety into his game, and make it count in terms of shots and goals, he can develop into a real top-class player.

McCarthy played solidly, but for me, these are the games in which he needs to dominate, to demand possession, to drive the play forward, and get in a shot or two.

It was an ideal match in which to work on that aspect of dominating the midfield, and I'm sure that O'Neill and Roy Keane will expect more of McCarthy and other players as time goes on.

Hoolahan, for me, was terrific. It was a treat to watch his awareness and his passing ability was shown up to good effect.

The goalkeeper and defence were never really tested but anything that was asked of them, they dealt with quite capably.

A good night for the fans, a good start for the new regime, and a nice few goals. Happy days. Long may they last.

Irish Independent

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