What we learned

Irish Examiner - Sport - - SOCCER -

Noth­ing has changed

There can be no getting away from the fact 2018 has been an an­nus hor­ri­bilis for Martin O’neill and his se­nior international squad. An op­por­tu­nity to use the Uefa Na­tions League as a po­ten­tially eas­ier route to Euro 2020 has proven a dread­ful dis­ap­point­ment, down­grad­ing Ire­land to third seeds in the up­com­ing cham­pi­onship draw.

Joe Schmidt’s international rugby setup go­ing from strength to strength has only height­ened the grow­ing sense of frus­tra­tion sur­round­ing a foot­ball team low on morale and short on ideas.

The buck stops with Martin O’neill and his back­room team. It has to. Twelve months on from a World Cup play-off ham­mer­ing at the hands of Mon­day night’s op­po­nents, yet noth­ing has That alone should be rea­son enough for the FAI to be­gin ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tive man­age­rial op­tions.

Still no iden­tity

Last night’s per­for­mance was symp­to­matic of re­cent ef­forts, but the prob­lems fac­ing Martin O’neill re­main the same. Again, Ire­land con­ceded the ma­jor­ity of pos­ses­sion to their op­po­nents, had no cre­ative spark or mid­field­ers with the con­vic­tion to try and make some­thing hap­pen.

O’neill took charge of Ire­land back in 2013 and is re­spon­si­ble for de­liv­er­ing some un­for­get­table mem­o­ries. Yet, last night’s en­counter with Den­mark con­firmed that Ire­land has lost its iden­tity un­der their cur­rent man­ager.

O’neill will ar­gue that he is do­ing the best he can with lim­ited re­sources, but lack of a ba­sic shape, pos­i­tive game-plan or sim­ple be­lief means Ire­land’s international play­ers are now re­gress­ing un­der his stew­ard­ship.

Dif­fer­ent starters, same end­ing

O’neill per­sisted with his favoured 3-5-2 for­ma­tion, de­spite a some­times er­ratic de­fen­sive dis­play against North­ern Irechanged. land. Richard Keogh and Kevin Long came into the back three, but it was Enda Stevens who im­pressed the most.

Deputis­ing for a sus­pended James Mcclean, the 28-year-old Sh­effield United de­fender en­hanced his fu­ture international prospects with a com­pe­tent dis­play on the left flank.

The same can­not be said for Cyrus Christie, who looked com­pletely out of sorts in a cen­tral mid­field role.

Ai­den O’brien worked hard up front, but got zero help from an Ir­ish team in­tent on con­tain­ing rather than tak­ing the game to their op­po­nents.

Nei­ther Christie nor O’brien should be faulted for their ef­forts or their will­ing­ness to play in such un­ac­cus­tomed roles. Ran­dolph the one bright spark

The emer­gence of Darren Ran­dolph as a de­pend­able international keeper has been one of the few pos­i­tives from the Repub­lic’s UEFA Na­tions League cam­paign. The Mid­dles­brough shot-stop­per’s con­sis­tent per­for­mances have been in stark con­trast to an Ir­ish de­fence in­ca­pable of keep­ing a clean sheet in over half of their international out­ings this past year.

Ran­dolph re­in­forced his im­por­tance to the O’neill’s setup with a fine stop to pre­vent Peter Ankersen’s shot from find­ing the net dur­ing the open­ing half. He rode his luck at times but a clean sheet was just re­ward for an Ir­ish goal­keeper who has made the num­ber one jersey his own.

Ger Mccarthy

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