Saturday 7 December 2019

We are long-ball, workmanlike and totally predictable

Richard Sadlier

W e can talk about heart and pride and spirit and morale if we like. There are many ways to interpret a two-goal reply to being 3-0 down and nearly all of them are positive. For the moment, though, let's be realistic. We are a long way off where we want to be.

Richard Dunne, Ireland's most consistent performer for years and the one whose absence would cause us most difficulty, gave a damning verdict of our general approach after Friday's defeat to Russia. The plan appears very straightforward -- hit Kevin Doyle and go from there. No defender looks to get the ball from Shay Given. If the ball is in defence, the midfield is bypassed. No trust is placed in the players to get on the ball and hold on to it. At no stage are they encouraged (or even allowed) to retain possession in an attempt to dictate the pace of the game. They defend, and then they attack. Simple to implement, but even simpler to combat.

The performance of Paul Green in midfield was as ineffective as any player in his position in recent years. He was totally overrun by quick and intelligent Russians. He is not in the side to support the attack, but the defensive qualities which earned him his place in the starting line-up were largely absent. For all the manager's talk of the system over the individual, Green's limitations were brutally exposed.

It may have only been his third competitive game in the side, but once Keith Andrews returns from injury, you would assume he will not be seen for some time.

Robbie Keane was disappointing also. In truth, his performance was not too dissimilar to those he gave in much of the previous campaign, but his continued spell on the bench at Tottenham suggests there may not be a significant improvement any time soon.

It was thought by some that he was of an age and a level where he would not suffer much from a lengthy absence from competitive football. There can be no such belief any more. Despite this, there is no way Giovanni Trapattoni would consider leaving him out as there are no credible alternatives anywhere.

While the manager is limited in his options, his reluctance to consider them can infuriate. That he chose not to make any changes at half-time was baffling, for it was a long time since an Irish midfield was as redundant as ours was in that first half. Even in the second half, our primary source of attack and creativity seemed to be long balls forward from our own half, and the occasional delivery from wide from Aiden McGeady. It is not a style of play which is overly pleasing to watch, and it is certainly not a style of play with which we will win this group.

To those in the team with the ability to play in a different way, the lack of freedom afforded to them must drive them mad. Kevin Doyle can be very effective in this style but surely he longs to receive the ball to his feet every now and again.

We could easily have conceded four or five goals on the night and our only reply was to stick Richard Dunne up front towards the end to see what havoc he could cause with his head.

The substitutions available to Trapattoni were slight variations of what was already on the field, so James McCarthy's omission from the squad was difficult to understand. It is all too easy to overly praise the abilities of those absent after such a disappointing display,

but why there is no room in a squad for just one player of that nature is beyond me.

If this was a reality check for some, it should not have been this long coming. The most notable performances and results of the Trapattoni era have come against France and Italy, but both sides were woefully poor. We are long-ball, predictable and workmanlike. Tactically, we are rigid and negative. In terms of entertainment, you would have to go a long way to find much worse.

But this is where we're at. We will not be changing manager before the end of the campaign so let's not expect any deviation from what we have come to expect.

A result on Tuesday in Slovakia would send the players returning to their clubs on a positive note but the lessons learned on Friday night should not be ignored.

Given Trapattoni's stubbornness though, you would have to assume they will be.

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