Ex­pe­ri­enced Ir­ish should not have been re­duced to such des­per­ate mea­sures

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER -

IF there is one thing that will have hurt and dis­ap­pointed Martin O’Neill more than any­thing from the Ser­bia de­feat, it is that we looked like a des­per­ate side for the last five min­utes. But we are not. This team has shown, like against Italy, that they are a qual­ity side.

And we are trav­el­ling to Wales next month. We are not play­ing in Italy, France, Ger­many or Spain. Re­mem­ber that. It’s Wales. We should be go­ing there with con­fi­dence, ex­pect­ing to win.

Ire­land need to get the job done against Moldova, and they can­not af­ford to go into it be­liev­ing the game against the bot­tom team is al­ready won. Wales didn’t score un­til late on against them and it will not be straight­for­ward. But I ex­pect us to win and take the feel-good fac­tor to Cardiff.

While there was a sig­nif­i­cant improvement from the Ge­or­gia game against Ser­bia, we still need to im­prove fur­ther against Wales. In many ways, be­cause we looked so much bet­ter, the Ser­bia game was even more dis­ap­point­ing. We didn’t cre­ate enough and that will be even more frus­trat­ing for the man­ager.

Un­for­tu­nately, you get per­for­mances like the draw in Ge­or­gia and you have to deal with the crit­i­cism and move on. No mat­ter what peo­ple say, play­ers don’t mind be­ing crit­i­cised when it is jus­ti­fied and if they know they have played badly.

That crit­i­cism will have fired them up for Ser­bia and, for all the improvement, they know they can be bet­ter. The bigger alarm bells are prob­a­bly ring­ing after the sec­ond game be­cause we looked des­per­ate at times, not mak­ing the right de­ci­sions.

I have been in a des­per­ate team and it is not easy. You find your­self do­ing the wrong things be­cause you are so ea­ger to find an open­ing and say­ing to your­self, ‘What am I do­ing?’ There were a few times I looked at the team and asked that ques­tion.

Such as when James McClean was tak­ing the ball off the ’keeper in the last 10 min­utes. I am not sin­gling him out, as McClean was in the top two or three Ire­land play­ers on the night, but the way he played in the last quar­ter of the game made no sense.

We had Shane Duffy, Daryl Mur­phy, Jon Wal­ters and Shane Long all need­ing a ball into the area at an an­gle. If you have the big boys up front you want the best an­gle and height on the ball up the field. It is like a 70-yard chip in golf where you can’t put enough spin on it — but can’t hit it too hard ei­ther. You of­ten get caught be­tween the two and that cer­tainly hap­pened to McClean.

He was try­ing to play at left-back, right-back, left-wing, right-wing, and then run­ning through the mid­dle where it is im­pos­si­ble to play the right type of cross at the right an­gle.

We are not go­ing to be a team like Spain that passes the ball to death and teams re­treat all the time be­cause we have to keep the ball. That last 10 min­utes needed the long ball with McClean look­ing to get the knock­downs at the edge of the area in­stead of play­ing them. Dar­ren Ran­dolph could have done what McClean was do­ing. He doesn’t have to be the hero all the time.

It just didn’t look good. It looked

James McClean doesn’t have to be the hero all the time

des­per­ate but this team is not a des­per­ate team. They have played in pres­sure sit­u­a­tions. They have re­sponded and beaten Italy in the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships. They should be able to blank out the wrong de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

Wales were the more ner­vous team in Dublin be­cause they were chas­ing the game but now it has changed and we will be chas­ing them.

The Ire­land play­ers have that win over Italy to draw be­lief from. And they can feed off the Ire­land fans be­cause ner­vous Welsh fans at home will be the key. It’s a great shame that so many of the Green Army will miss out as the game will be played at Cardiff City’s ground with its 33,000 seats — rather than the ex­cel­lent Mil­len­nium Sta­dium with more than dou­ble that ca­pac­ity.

But we have to re­mem­ber we are not play­ing one of the big names of world foot­ball. It’s Wales. There is no fear fac­tor. So if I was McClean, I would be fan­cy­ing com­ing up against Chris Gunter, just the same as if I was Brady against Davies, Wal­ters against Wil­liams. We match up across the pitch. The big ques­tion will be: can we keep the main man quiet?

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