Ire­land need best to beat ‘class act’ Ser­bia

Man­ager calls for big­ger per­for­mance as pres­sure mounts af­ter Ge­or­gia draw

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Em­met Malone:

Those who played in Tbil­isi might be grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to make amends but Martin O’Neill sug­gests there could be changes to Ire­land’s start­ing line-up for the game against Ser­bia af­ter his side’s chances of mak­ing it Rus­sia next sum­mer took a bit of a bat­ter­ing on Satur­day night.

Ire­land re­tain sec­ond place in Group D but lost ground to both the Serbs and Welsh on a night when they failed to get to grips with Ge­or­gia in Tbil­isi and now need to win a group game for the first time this year if they are to avoid the like­li­hood of slip­ping back to third with just two games re­main­ing.

The man­ager ac­knowl­edged af­ter­wards that his side had played poorly against a team that was bet­ter on the night but in­sisted that Ire­land are ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing the sort of im­prove­ment re­quired to beat the Serbs and stay in con­tention for the group’s sole au­to­matic qual­i­fy­ing spot.

‘Less room’

“We will have to do bet­ter,” he said, “give them less room to play than we did with the Ge­or­gians. We will have to be at our very best if we are go­ing to beat them but we can do that.

“I think the play­ers will be well aware of it them­selves that we did not play well enough. At some stage you have to get closer to play­ers; that’s just the name of the game. But we didn’t do that, we al­lowed them to dic­tate mat­ters and when we did have the ball, we didn’t deal well enough with it.

“In the sec­ond half, we started get­ting a bit closer to them; we started to cre­ate a few chances. The game stretched and it was end to end for about 10 or 15 min­utes to­wards the end and in that time we had two or three chances to score. So from that view­point, that was en­cour­ag­ing but def­i­nitely, in terms of the first-half per­for­mance, we have to ad­dress that and do a lot bet­ter be­cause Ser­bia are a class act.”

O’Neill re­peat­edly came back in his post-match com­ments to the fact that Ire­land had clear-cut chances to get a sec­ond goal and win the game but the Ge­or­gians, who were gen­er­ally the bet­ter side, might well have scored another too.

Their man­ager, Vladimir Weiss, ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment that his side had not won the game but said the home side had to be proud too of hav­ing gone so close against a team largely com­posed of Premier League play­ers. Sev­eral of his own play­ers, he said in a line that echoed a reg­u­lar O’Neill com­plaint, had tired to­wards the end be­cause they are not play­ing reg­u­larly at their clubs.

Asked about the Ir­ish goal – a Shane Duffy header af­ter a fourth-minute free had been lofted long into the box by Cyrus Christie in which Ciaran Clark ap­peared to foul Giorgi Makaridze as he came for the high ball, Weiss fo­cused on the role of his goal­keeper rather than that of the Slo­vakian ref­eree who failed to spot the in­fringe­ment.

“I don’t blame the ref­eree,” he said. “It was an in­di­vid­ual mis­take by the goal­keeper; he should not have come that far out. The keep­ers have prac­tised for those sorts of sit­u­a­tions in train­ing nu­mer­ous times and he should have known that it was not his job to come so far out of his six-yard box.”

His op­po­site num­ber, mean­while, ac­cepted that his play­ers “re­ally should do bet­ter at in­ter­na­tional level. It’s a step up,” he claimed, “and you are play­ing against sides who are tech­ni­cally de­cent”. Im­pres­sive as they were, though, it is hard to see how Ge­or­gia could be re­garded as a step up on the op­po­nents that most of th­ese Ir­ish play­ers rou­tinely find them­selves fac­ing in the English top flight.

Ser­bia, as it hap­pens, might be a lit­tle closer to it and while Jeff Hen­drick should be avail­able, David McGoldrick is def­i­nitely out so O’Neill must de­cide on whether to em­bark on the sort of over­haul that paid off for him so hand­somely at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships ahead of the team’s fi­nal group game against Italy.

On that oc­ca­sion, there were four changes to the line-up with Richard Keogh, Daryl Mur­phy, James McClean and Duffy all com­ing into an Ir­ish side that was un­recog­nis­able to the one beaten so com­pre­hen­sively by Bel­gium a few days ear­lier.

If Ire­land fail to win on Tues­day, O’Neill seemed to tac­itly agree, the team’s lin­ger­ing hopes of fin­ish­ing first in the group will be all but over but his con­cerns have been com­pounded by Wales’ 1-0 vic­tory over Aus­tria which moves Chris Cole­man’s side to within two points of Ire­land in the ta­ble.

I think the play­ers will be well aware of it them­selves that we did not play well enough Martin O’Neill

Avoid de­feat

North­ern Ire­land, mean­while, could fi­nalise their place in the play-offs in Belfast Mon­day evening if they can just avoid de­feat against the Czech Re­pub­lic who must win to keep their own chances of catch­ing Michael O’Neill’s side alive.

Two goals from Josh Ma­gen­nis and a penalty from skip­per Steven David, all in the space of seven min­utes, gave the Ir­ish a 3-0 win in San Marino while the Czechs were beaten at home by Ger­many who can guar­an­tee top spot and au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion by beat­ing Nor­way if North­ern Ire­land fail to win.

“If we can take care of busi­ness on Mon­day night,” said the man­ager in the wake of last Fri­day’s win, “and have a play-off to look for­ward to, then it’s some­thing for us to rel­ish. In essence, if we can do that, our World Cup starts in Novem­ber.”

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: LADEN ANTONOV/AFP/GETTY, DAVID MDZINARISHVILI/REUTERS

Glenn Whelan de­spairs as Ge­or­gia cel­e­brate Va­leri Kaza­ishvili’s goal; and (be­low) Shane Duffy, aided by Ciarán Clark, beats Roin Kvaskhvadze to score dur­ing the FIFA World Cup qual­i­fier on Satur­day.

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