Encouraging display gives Trapattoni cause for optimism
Serbia 0 Rep of Ireland 0:IT WASN’T the sort of stuff that would set pulses racing but then there was plenty of that over the summer and it really didn’t end well.
Here, there was little in the way of urgency about the opposition and a good deal less ability than the likes of Spain or Italy but Giovanni Trapattoni left the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade last night with a good deal of cause for satisfaction.
Obliged to field a team stripped of its most experienced players, he engineered another of those friendly performances in which Ireland seem to specialise.
There was a clean sheet, some encouraging performances and, as a bonus, a fairly successful outing for a new system to ponder. There have, in short, been far more meaningless friendlies.
Having had to ditch his original plan for the game a few hours before kick off when Shane Long was ruled out with a calf injury picked up in training, the Italian shuffled his pack.
He handed Simon Cox a start on the right and James McClean a role in central midfield from where he was entrusted through the early stages with providing as much support to Jonathan Walters as was feasible – without leaving the visitors’ shorthanded when without the ball.
The pace and intensity of the game was a world away from the ones in which the Irish were overrun in Poland but the approach worked well enough.
The personnel shifted about a bit with Cox taking over in the centre after half an hour while McClean reverted to the left and Aiden McGeady switched sides, but the manager did not need to abandon the experiment as he had said he would in the event that it all showed signs of blowing up in his face.
Cox probably looked the best of the lot with the newly transferred striker, energised perhaps by the prospect of being more than a bit part player at his club again, confident and creative in every role he played. On another night he would have been put under far more pressure by defenders of this calibre but here he made the most of the time and space he was allowed to weigh up his options and, make good use of the ball.
McGeady had his moments too and, while less prominent, James McCarthy also looked good on the ball. Overall, there was a general sense of composure around midfield that had been lost at critical times during the European Championship defeats.
The ball was retained well for spells and a handful of half decent chances were created. The pick of them in the first half fell to Walters and McClean, both of whom probably should have been a little more alert to the opportunities.
He may not have had a goal but Walters can be pleased with his efforts overall with the striker succeeding both in bringing players around him into the game and winning a handful of free kicks in promising areas. If there was a really disappointing aspect to the Irish attack it was how rarely the wide men took on, never mind beat, the Serbian full-backs.