Sport World Cup

Saturday 21 April 2018

Stephen Hunt: It was close to a perfect team performance

Seamus Coleman tackles Austria’s Kevin Wimmer in what was a battling display by the Donegal man yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Seamus Coleman tackles Austria’s Kevin Wimmer in what was a battling display by the Donegal man yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

While formations are good and well in the modern game, ultimately men win football matches and that was proven last night in Vienna.

We might have only won by a single goal but the contest was men against boys in our favour. Not on the basis of ability, more in terms of being stronger and wiser.

Like most teams that are hyped in the media, Austria started well only to display their weakness by fading - and we took full advantage.

Although there were no electrifying individual displays throughout the team, it was as near to a perfect team performance from an Irish side as you'll see.

It gives us a platform to mount a genuine challenge to qualify for the World Cup, and there's more to come from this team. We did the simple things right - closed Austria down, denied space by pressing them back and stopped the flow of crosses from the wings. I'm a proud Irishman this weekend and you could see Roy Keane felt that way too.

His emotion at the final whistle said it all. Roy produced a lot of brilliant showings as an Ireland player, yet there was no competitive away win over a higher seed during his 14 years of wearing the jersey.

This group of players have broken a hoodoo that stretched back almost 30 years to the victory in Glasgow.

Tactically, Martin O'Neill did the right thing by starting with a diamond formation. It offered the back four an extra degree of protection and allowed us grow into the game.

When we lost Glenn Whelan during the first half, there might have been a worry about the loss of his grittiness. Bringing David Meyler on, however, was the right decision by the manager, one reinforced by how easily he slipped into the play.

Meyler may be underestimated but he's a Premier League regular, someone well capable of operating at international level. I've played against him before and he gets stuck in and can see a pass, as he did in the run-up to the winning goal.

Harry Arter also made a good contribution on his competitive debut, even if the diamond formation didn't particularly suit him. The first-half substitution worked to his advantage, the switch in formation afforded us an opportunity to penetrate more.

The topic of Wes Hoolahan's inclusion in away games is much talked about and, while he rarely loses possession needlessly, his presence offers an air of calmness to his team-mates. That influence was evident last night.

It wasn't just Wes, though, as the performances were solid all over the pitch. From the man mountain Jonathan Walters up front back to Seamus Coleman, it was a flawless performance.

The only blip was Robbie Brady's booking, which rules him out of the visit by Wales in March.

Martin O'Neill spoke on the eve of the game about how Seamus can inspire the rest of the team and he's becoming very vocal on the pitch.

Just as importantly, too, is him developing into a clever politician. It was interesting to see him approach the referee at half time, presumably to have a word about the booking Shane Duffy picked up a few minutes early.

That's good work by the captain, telling the referee he felt the yellow card was unnecessary.

In terms of his own display, Seamus was well able to cope with Marko Arnautovic. As I've said before, Arnautovic is a poor man's Zlatan. He plays for Stoke City, not Barcelona, but behaves like he's a world star.

He's got the talent to affect games but has no justification for strutting around like he does, pretending he's special. I was always confident a steely character like Seamus would handle him fine and limit his contribution.

Another of Austria's main players, David Alaba, struggled to impose himself. It was easy to see the crowd are on his back after his recent performances, and he didn't harm us. OK, he did enjoy a lot of possession, especially in the first half, but didn't pose the threat to us that he has to other nations in the past.

Our players and manager must take credit for restricting the home side, through the way we set up and took a hold of the game in the second half.

We needed to ride our luck in the last minutes but I wasn't fearful of them equalising. Now it's a case of enjoying this win, taking a deserved break from international football until the next year, and crack on for when we play Wales. Who knows what can happen over the next five months? Some players will surge and others will struggle. I'm optimistic we'll have more options by then. Daryl Horgan will likely be playing in England by then and the confidence will be running through the team.

There's been speculation over Scott Hogan coming on board but I wouldn't go begging him to declare. He's got to make that decision himself and do it for the right reasons.

After four games we're in a strong position, with reasons to be hopeful. Now, we've got to minimise any slip-ups in the next year.

Sunday Indo Sport

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