Monday 18 December 2017

Steven Reid: Trapattoni replacement policy found wanting when Ireland needed it most

Steven Reid

Steven Reid

THE IRISH dressing-room would have been a horrible place to be last night. All that hard work and effort was gone in a moment when David Alaba's effort flew into the net.

You can tell by the players' reaction, this was a massive result. Those three points would have been a big fillip going into the rest of the campaign. It will be difficult to qualify now.

One minute they were in a great position, now they are back to square one. It is simple, that positivity they would have generated with a comeback win will be gone. The lads will be deflated.

We still have a chance to qualify, but it is an uphill battle now. Germany are going to win the group and the feeling before the game was that we had to get three points against Austria. We needed wins against the big guns and almost had it in the bag.

Now, Ireland have to go to Austria for a win, get a result in Germany and beat Sweden at home. This was a golden opportunity and the lads are going to be feeling like they have to start all over.

You could see the team were tired and the change, when it came from Giovanni Trapattoni, was too late and a strange one to boot.

When Paul Green came in, I expected him to slot into a midfield three, but instead he lined up on the right, with Jon Walters going up front. By adding numbers to the centre of the park, Trapattoni could have ensured that the defence were protected, to stop Austria coming forward.

Instead, it ended in disaster.

It is a combination of not being able to keep the ball and inviting the opposition on. When you are 2-1 up, it is natural to drop deeper and deeper, but you need someone to put pressure on the ball.

This result puts a completely different spin on the qualifying campaign and the international window. It had looked so hopeful, but what was going so well is now gone.

When Ciaran Clark's error led to that disastrous first goal for Martin Harnick, I feared the worst but Ireland responded well and it looked like being such a good result. They showed a sense of aggression that we haven't seen at Lansdowne Road in recent times, they fought back, got stuck in. It was reminiscent of the old Ireland nights we got used to at the old stadium.

It isn't a full house and the amount of empty seats is disappointing. There was a sense when this inexperienced team went 1-0 down that it wouldn't end well.

Austria came close minutes later, but Ireland stuck at it, with James McCarthy having another decent game and Seamus Coleman and James McClean providing impetus.

The team went back to what they are good at. They were full of running. It must be a nightmare for Emanuel Pogatetz, with Shane Long running down the side of him, tormenting the West Ham defender.

The highlight of that first-half display was McClean's performance. While his final ball let him down at times, he provided the team with a great outlet and it was the first time I have seen him getting the ball in the final third on a regular basis. He showed a willingness to get into dangerous positions. That's how Long won the penalty that led to Jon Walters' equaliser.

Over the last year for Ireland, the Derry native has been doing too much defensive work and that can affect his play. Last night he was positive and, as a result, found himself in decent positions. He was aggressive, winning the ball back in good positions.

As for the confidence my West Brom clubmate Long showed up front, this was as impressive as I've seen him in a green shirt.

More than anything, he has responded to being given a run of games by the manager. He is starting to believe that he is the lead striker and, with Kevin Doyle being left out of the squad initially, he has confidence about him. He's the main man and he played last night as he has been doing for the Baggies this season.

The second half saw Ireland drop their intensity, but it was always going to be difficult to maintain that pace and retreating to their own half was inevitable.

That said, they looked like they had done enough to get a result until the heart-breaking final moments.

It's all uphill from here.

Irish Independent

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