Saturday 16 December 2017

Steven Reid: Time for 'dream team' to take stock after positive start and reshape squad for new era

David Forde, Republic of Ireland, in action against Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
David Forde, Republic of Ireland, in action against Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, in action against Lukasz Szukala , Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Anthony Stokes, Republic of Ireland, in action against Lukasz Szukala, Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Aiden McGeady, Republic of Ireland, in action against Piotr Celeban, Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Shane Long, Republic of Ireland, in action against Lukasz Szukala, Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
James McCarthy, Republic of Ireland, in action against Robert Lewandowski, Poland. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Roy Keane looks tense during the pre-match warm up for the Poland v Republic of Ireland match, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, left, and assistant manager Roy Keane during the game. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney in attendance at the game. Friendly International, Poland v Republic of Ireland, Municipal Stadium, Poznan, Poland. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Steven Reid

Steven Reid

Can it be only a week since Martin O'Neill first went to work with the Irish players? In just two matches, the first two of his career as an international manager, O'Neill has brought a new sense of purpose to the squad.

I know the Latvia and Poland matches were friendlies, but playing at home on Friday night and away last night against a side which had something to prove to their supporters, has worked out nicely.

The manager promised a positive approach and that's what we've seen over the two matches. He would have been asked to get two good results and lift the morale of the players and the supporters and the outcome is there for anyone to see.

The performance level of the team in the whole of the Latvia game and first half of the Poland match was very good.

There's no need to worry about the 0-0 draw in Poznan. The result didn't matter hugely, although no doubt Martin wanted to win this game as much as he wanted to beat Latvia on Friday.

All in all, it has been a hugely positive week for Irish soccer. I'm sure Martin and Roy Keane will be disappointed they have to wait a few months before they get the players together again, but they have made a great start.

It's not all bad. For a few months now, the management team have time to analyse, go on scouting trips, see players, and build relationships.

After these two internationals they will watch every individual player and probably check out a pool of around 30-35 players who they feel could make their squad for the European qualifiers next year.

They will be glad to take stock. The last week has been a whirlwind, particularly with all the media and press they had to do. Now it's important to go and look and analyse what they've seen.

There's no doubt that they galvanised the football fans of Ireland. I'm sure that will continue in 2014.

The game wasn't won, but it was useful for the players to be exposed to a tough away match against a Polish side which has a couple of world-class players.

The first-half performance was good, the second half a little disjointed, but it's clear the Irish team will offer a greater attacking threat.

For me Aiden McGeady has been a huge beneficiary of the change in manager and the new approach adopted by O'Neill.

In both games Aiden has looked to be full of confidence.

When he's come off the line at times in previous internationals, he's been a bit isolated and, at times, the games drifted by him to an extent.

But with him coming inside and getting more involved in the play as we saw in the Latvia game, when he drifted from the left-hand side into little pockets of space, he was our biggest threat again.

Shane Long's work rate was fantastic. He held the ball up well and I was impressed with Paul Greene in the middle of the park alongside James McCarthy.

There were some very good aspects to the Irish play.

One of them was the ability to break forward at pace and Aiden did that on a few occasions.

The lads also backed up the play better.

Shane made his runs and held the play up, and we had Aiden and Jon Walters quick to join in, which is something we've not seen for a long time.

Players got forward in numbers in the box and equally important, there was a real desire to hunt in packs to win the ball back in good areas to keep the pressure on the Poles.

Under Trapattoni it was all a lot more cautious. Now we see far more attacking play going forward and look a real threat more often.

A lot of that came from having Shane up top. I'm not saying this because he's a clubmate, but Shane is a real pest for defenders.

He puts the back four under pressure constantly and does the ugly, unheralded work that a lot of forwards don't like to do.

Ireland almost scored early on from an identical set-play to the one we scored from on Friday.

Stephen Kelly's going to be disappointed he didn't score that one, and the chance underlines that when it comes to tight games – and to be honest, most international games for us are pretty tight affairs – you need to make those chances count.

Looking ahead, the goalkeeping situation could prove to be very interesting.

Now that Keiren Westwood has got his place back at Sunderland, he'll challenge hard for the number one Irish jersey, but David Forde dealt pretty well with everything that came his way.

Sean St Ledger will be disappointed he had to go off injured in the first half. He needs games and the chance to impress O'Neill.

John O'Shea came on for St Ledger and it took him a bit of time to get into it.

His yellow card for an instinctive handball when Lewandowski got the drop on him was a bit of a comical incident, but it won't do in a competitive match.

Irish Independent

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