Tuesday 12 December 2017

Trap's missing the point

Reluctance of irish boss to tinker and late Norway winner leave sour taste

Shane Long celebrates with his teammates having scored from the penalty spot during the friendly international against Norway at the Aviva Stadium last night - Norway won 2-1.
Shane Long celebrates with his teammates having scored from the penalty spot during the friendly international against Norway at the Aviva Stadium last night - Norway won 2-1.
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

THE crowd stayed away and so did the entertainment. It was a flat end to an international year which leaves Ireland with a large number of question marks.

Ireland's fourth outing at the Aviva Stadium culminated in a third defeat, with the mighty Andorra the only team vanquished. A fortress it ain't.

Okay, it would be hypocritical to get bogged down in the outcome of friendlies after calling for experimentation on the basis that there was no reward for a positive result.

Instead, the ultimate disappointment was Giovanni Trapattoni's reluctance to tinker because he felt that the result was significant. And his team still lost, although Norway's late winner was undeserved on the balance of play.

Sure, there was a brief formation reshuffle in the first-half and an encouraging evening in the development of Shane Long, Greg Cunningham and Keith Fahey.

But there was a sprinkling of boos at the final whistle, with the crowd underwhelmed by the manager's decision to drip-feed emerging talents into the mix rather than introducing them en masse.


Jon Walters was the only one of the uncapped trio on the bench to see action, with Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson stuck as spectators when Trapattoni had indicated a desire to try them out.

The energy of Coleman would have benefited a contest which did little to keep the 30,068 punters warm on a chilly night. Many of those fans had departed before Erik Huseklepp's 87th-minute decider.

"I am a little disappointed with the result," said Trapattoni. "But I saw some important positives. We have more options now."

With the attendance 6,000 below what turned up for Sunday's reasonably priced FAI Cup final -- in truth, the difference seemed to be considerably greater. The atmosphere was flat from the outset.

There was a muted cheer when John O'Shea barged over an opponent to gain possession in the fourth minute and storm forward from his centre-half berth.

The decibel levels did raise when he slotted the ball into the path of Shane Long, who got on the right side of Brede Hangeland and was clumsily brought to the ground just inside the box.

Ref Kristinn Jakobsson deemed it a penalty kick and Long, who converted from the spot for Reading at the weekend, did the same for his country.

Trapattoni's makeshift XI had a purposeful look about it during the early exchanges. "In the first 20 minutes, it was only us," he said.

Fahey started strongly in the central midfield role, calmly spreading the play and bringing others into the game.

Norway should have fallen further behind, with 'keeper Jon Knudsen called into action to make an excellent stop from Damien Duff after initially turning a Liam Lawrence centre into the path of the Fulham man, who was returning after missing the first four Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Glenn Whelan and Fahey threatened with speculative efforts as Ireland continued to exert pressure, with Norway struggling to make real inroads.

Russia strolled into Dublin last month with one up front and ran rings around the hosts in the midfield department.

Last night, Egil Olsen's men initially failed to make inroads. Huseklepp tried to take up some good positions between Ireland's defensive and midfield banks of four without ever really getting any joy.

Alas, the visitors were level after the half hour mark after a Stephen Kelly handball stopped the progress of lone striker Thorstein Helstad outside the area. Morten Gamst Pedersen stepped up to expertly curl a left-footer beyond the reach of Shay Given.

Trapattoni responded with a rejig. Norway were beginning to make their numeric advantage in midfield count, so the Italian reverted to a 4-5-1, with Long moving to the right wing and Lawrence dropping inside to join Fahey and Whelan in the heart of the midfield.


Yet Ireland were back in their original shape before the interval, with Trapattoni pressing the default button following profligacy from Helstad, who ghosted away from Darren O'Dea and shot straight at Given.

Aiden McGeady and new cap Walters were brought on at the break, replacing Lawrence and Doyle respectively. Norway juggled a bit as well, with Huseklepp moving up top and instantly testing Given when O'Dea and O'Shea ponderously reacted to an innocuous punt.

McGeady shouldered the creative responsibility for Ireland and he released the lively Long, whose thunderbolt was tipped to safety by Norway substitute 'keeper Espen Bugge Pettersen.

The tipperary striker's contribution will have given Trapattoni something to ponder.

The same can be said for Fahey, who did make a defensive error by trying an elaborate pass outside his own box when safety first might have been advised, but the Birmingham man followed it up minutes later with a sublime ball to send Walters scampering -- a pass which the absent Paul Green wouldn't have produced.

He deserves another try in the central role when Wales visit Dublin 4 in February.

"I had a doubt about him in this position, but he played very, very well," said the manager.

As the second half wore on, though, there was no real pattern, with McGeady vainly shooting on sight in search of a first Irish goal, and Norway sporadically dangerous. The stadium big screen showed Coleman on the bench and the reaction of the spectators suggested they wanted him on the pitch.

Trapattoni wants to try him at right-back and will point to Ireland being oversubscribed in that department. When O'Dea felt his hamstring and Kelly was called inside to partner O'Shea, Kevin Foley was belatedly given a deserved second cap.

The Wolves man has been waiting longer than Coleman and Wilson, but with nothing at stake there was a chance to mix things up and involve all three. Trapattoni spoke of wanting to maintain parity. He had deliberated over pushing Foley into midfield, but decided that it was important to get a draw at least. "I had to look at the balance," he explained.

That proved a worthless endeavour, as the Norwegians struck to claim success. Trapattoni felt some players' lack of match sharpness was evident, namechecking Whelan as one who was struggling as Olsen's men countered to good effect.

Eventually, the ball was worked to Pedersen, whose daisy-cutting cross was turned past Given by Huseklepp.

Ireland -- Given, Kelly, O'Dea (Foley 67), O'Shea, Cunningham; Lawrence (McGeady 45), Whelan, Fahey, Duff (Hunt 74); Doyle (Walters 45), Long.

Norway -- Knudsen (Pettersen 45), Hogli, Waehler, Hangeland, JA Riise; Hauger; Huseklepp, Grindheim (Jenssen 55), Pedersen, Moen (Haestad 78); Helstad (BH Riise 45)

Ref -- K Jakobsson (Iceland).

Irish Independent

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