In the last week the Rep Of Ireland have played two Nations Cup games. First up was Denmark on Saturday October 13th at the Aviva. Followed by another home fixture with Wales on Tuesday October 16th. The game against the Danes proved to be a very difficult watch for anybody who chose to tune in. It was however, a real ‘back to basics’ approach after a couple of recent drubbings. One of those beatings was by Denmark themselves. So, it was rather understanding that Martin O’Neill’s men would look to keep out of the Danes at all costs. In that game O’Neill went to three at the back but ultimately it was five at the back with both wing backs James McClean and Matt Doherty keeping tight to the central defenders. The game finished 0-0 which was job done as far as management were concerned.
A few days later the dragons from Wales would cross the Irish sea to take on their neighbours. Only last month the Welsh had thumped Ireland 4-1 in Cardiff. This time however, they would be without the services of stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. On paper, it was felt that this was an opportunity for Ireland at home, to really have a go at a very young Welsh outfit. To be fair, Ireland did have a go and played with greater aggression and attacking intent. But it was the Welsh we came away with a deserved 1-0 victory on the night. So in a game were Ireland did try and attack why couldn’t they score, or really ever look like scoring?
In the Danish game it was a true case of baton down the hatches for the Irish side. Therefore, they allowed the Danes to control possession of the ball and thus Ireland had no base for any creative output themselves. They did a job in this game. Which was simply to get something out of the game and gain confidence going forward. The Republic completed 320 passes against Denmark whilst the Danes completed 606.
Back to the Welsh game and their was a huge difference as Ireland produced 430 passes in this game. That is 110 more passes completed than their previous game. But then again the tactics were different. Both wing backs were allowed to get forward to try and link with the midfield and get crosses into the box. Indeed, the Irish produced 23 crosses against the Welsh from open play. Ireland also had 10 shots on goal with 7 on target. Wales had 9 with only 4 on target. Nobody could accuse Martin O’Neill of not trying to win the game. But of those chances for Ireland, it is difficult to pick one that was a genuine great opportunity to score. Wales scored once and probably should have had another with almost as many opportunities as the team in green.
Though Ireland mainly focused on getting the ball wide to create opportunities there was a lack of creativity in the middle of the park. Between the three players Hendrick, Arter and Christie they produced just 1 key pass and 2 shots all game. Against a young inexperienced Wales midfield it’s not productive enough. Out wide however, James McClean was industrious and showing great leadership whilst quite productive on the left. He completed 2 key passes and had one effort on target. For his part on the right, Wolves man Matt Doherty completed 1 key pass in the 90 minutes.
The Irish have obviously had an issue up top since record goalscorer Robbie Keane retired. Shane Long who is probably the countries best striker has only scored 2 goals in over 60 games at club level. To be fair there is more to his game as he runs the channels quite well and his movement is good. But Ireland need to address how they will score goals. Callum Robinson and Aiden O’Brien got their turn in what now seems to be musical chairs upfront. Between them they have produced 1 goal for Ireland. In their defence, they only have six caps between them. At club level Robinson has scored 4 goals for Preston in 12 this season, while O’Brien has scored 1 in 12 at Millwall. Strikers, Scott Hogan and Sean Maguire both were introduced late on against Wales. Scott hasn’t kicked a ball at Aston Villa this season and is yet to score for the Republic. Sean Maguire showed promise at Preston, however injuries have stalled his progress. So far, he has only managed to appear once at Deepdale this term. In three caps for Ireland he is yet to find the back of the net.
Its clear that O’Neill has a real issue as to who he goes with upfront. There has been a lot of swapping and switching of strikers recently hoping one of them catches fire. The lack of creativity in most areas of the field doesn’t help either and most of the strikers available would probably need a few opportunities to hit the net. As it stands, Ireland have to be difficult to beat and keep things tight at the back in the hope that they pinch one at the other end. The problems are likely to persist for sometime yet even when they do open up and attempt to attack the opposition.