Looks can be deceiving for the new look Ireland set up, according to Martin Scanlon.
Twelve months on from the Republic of Ireland’s last-minute rescue of an undeserved draw against Cyprus in Croke Park and the FAI’s dismissal of Steve Staunton, Ireland struggled to another fortunate victory against a Cypriot side deprived of five first-team regulars.
In between, the FAI appointed Ireland’s most expensive and high-profile coaching team ever. Yet, six months into their official reign, Trapattoni, Brady and Tardelli can hardly be said to be responsible for a renaissance in Irish football.
Under Trapattoni, Ireland have played six internationals and remain unbeaten- not many international managers can boast of such a record. However, closer inspection is required. Of the three competitive fixtures, none of the trio of Georgia, Montenegro and Cyprus could claim to harbour realistic ambitions of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Yes, Ireland have only conceded once in those matches, but that can be attributed to a mix of luck, steady goalkeeping and tremendous last gasp tackling from Richard Dunne.
Against better sides with greater attacking ability, a defence including Paul McShane at right back and Kevin Kilbane at left back will undoubtedly be found lacking.
More concerning issues, however, confront the national side further up the field. Against Cyprus, the central midfield axis of Darren Gibson and Glen Whelan was non-existent, which accurately describes their reputation outside of the national coaching set-up.
Gibson isn’t considered good enough to start Carling Cup games for Manchester United and Whelan has fifty-six minutes of Premiership experience.
More sympathetic commentators will point to the absence of Steven Reid and the impact he had in the opening two games of the qualifying campaign. In those games, he showed flashes of control and a passing ability desperately lacking last Wednesday, but in no way did he dominate those qualifiers.
Aiden McGeady continues to perform impressive flicks, before either hitting the first defender or row Z with his crosses
Ireland were on the back foot looking decidedly shaky against Georgia before some dodgy goalkeeping settled the result and there weren’t too many examples of flowing football against Montenegro.
Alternatives to Gibson and Whelan were available to Trapattoni in the form of Andy Reid and Liam Miller, yet these players continue to be ignored. Andy Reid features on a regular basis in a constantly rotating Sunderland team and possesses a passing ability and general vision far greater than the first team starters.
He was overlooked for the Cyprus game based on the manager’s preference for Gibson’s “physical presence”.
However, you would expect a player of such “physical presence” to be at least in the box for set pieces, yet Gibson loitered tamely on the edge of the area for most of the game.
It seems that poor Reid just isn’t wanted and probably won’t be called upon until crisis strikes. Could he really be faulted if he followed the example of Kris Boyd, who walked out of the Scottish team citing a lack of opportunities?
Without the ball, it’s difficult to prove a threat to opposing defences. Opportunities have been lacking attack-wise. The return of Damien Duff to somewhere near the form he showed earlier in his career is a definite plus point for the team. Repeats of his fine run and cross which created the goal will be badly needed.
On the other wing, Aiden McGeady continues to perform impressive flicks, before either hitting the first defender or row Z with his crosses. Recent games have also shown a distinct unwillingness of the full-backs to support to overlap their wide men and prove an additional outlet.
Maybe this will improve with the return of Steve Finnan, but the conservative nature of their play has been noticeable.
The delivery from set-pieces has been at best woeful, but what can you expect when the responsibility is given to either McShane or Kilbane. It’s no wonder that both restrict their attacking forays.
All of which leads to the tireless Doyle having to spend his time admirably chasing down defenders. His partner, Robbie Keane continues to disappoint game after game, the only change in his performances for Ireland in the Trapattoni era have been an increased willingness to tackle when he doesn’t have the ball.
One wonders whether a player of lower reputation at a smaller club would retain the armband in similar circumstances or even their place on the first eleven.
So, are Ireland post-Staunton really any better for having such a world-class coaching team? Staunton did not have the services of Steven Reid available to him in the last qualifying campaign, due to injury. Staunton didn’t even have the benefit of a neutral venue against San Marino. Where are the improvements?
The team has undoubtedly a greater appetite and work-ethic, but the fact that this is demonstrated through players throwing themselves in front of the ball on the six yard line and chasing the shadows of opponents, hardly inspires confidence.
The team lacks anything resembling a pattern of play, but even if it had, would the right players be chosen to utilise it? The team continues to rely on the individual efforts of Duff, McGeady and Doyle to create worthwhile chances.
The squad spent over a week together before the Cyprus game and still can’t even provide a decent cross from a corner. The post-Staunton Ireland is much of an improvement.
Despite these deficiencies, our position looks pretty good. Seven points out of nine, second place in the group, with a game in hand over Italy, and playing Georgia at home next spring. South Africa 2010 is well within our grasp. Thank God for the desperate state of international football.