Fresh faces show some reasons to be cheerful in promising encounter
Rep of Ireland 0 Greece 1It’s a pity their manager so regularly professes to value results over performances because Ireland’s players might otherwise have left the field last night feeling vaguely satisfied with their work.
It was scarcely a flawless display, with a preventable goal conceded and none scored, despite a succession of decent chances, but there were distinct signs those representatives of the team’s next generation really can breathe new life into it.
Whether a line up like this would really cope against the Swedes is another question and it seems unlikely Giovanni Trapattoni will attempt to find out.
As tends to be the case when they are at home, it was Ireland who made the brighter start to the game and they might well have been ahead over the course of the opening few minutes ,with the Israeli referee, Eitan Shmuelevitz, waving away two claims from the locals for a penalty.
The first, like a third at the very end of the half was for a handball that, in truth, didn’t look intentional, although the earlier offender, Kostas Stafylidis, could still consider himself a little lucky to get away with the contact.
That was in the opening minute and by the fourth the crowd really had something to get worked up about with Shane Long’s pace enabling him to get the better of his opponent before he appeared to be nudged a couple of yards inside the box.
By the break, when he was replaced, Long was more sinning than sinned against, with a slightly reckless looking challenge on Panagiotis Tachtsidis earning him a yellow card, although, to be fair, the tackle was nothing by comparison with the one that brought Ciarán Clark his booking a few minutes later.
The difference being that there was some tangible benefit to the defender’s lunge into Jose Holebas, for the midfielder seemed set to launch a counter attack which would involve Ireland being badly outnumbered.
Holebas had already shown what a threat he could be with the 28-year-old scoring on the half hour when a neat piece of interplay involving Konstantinis Mitroglou and Giorgos Samaras on the edge of the box ended with a smart turn and shot to the bottom left corner.
It was a little harsh on the home defence and, in particular, David Forde, who had done well up until then. The goalkeeper had made one fine save from Sotiris Ninis and a couple of other solid interventions, while John O’Shea had done most in front of him to deal with the aerial threat faced by the home side.
When playing the ball on the ground, through, the Greeks looked strong and capable and there was more than one other occasion on which they threatened to open the home team up.
What was really eye-catching about the Irish performance, though, was the attacking side of their game, with Séamus Coleman the stand out player, for the way in which he pushed confidently forward and, in the first half, linked up so well again with Robbie Brady.
The young Dubliner, like James McClean on the other side, had moments when a little more experience might have added to their effectiveness but both displayed a real capacity to threaten the opposition goal directly, as well as with crosses or set-pieces from the flanks. That, of course, is something that the manager has been crying out for of late.
In short, there were plenty of chances for Ireland to get on the scoresheet with Simon Cox passing up the best of the first half when he got his attempt to head home Coleman’s inch-perfect cross badly wrong while Stephen Ward should have done a lot better in the second when a wildly deflected Andy Keogh shot looked to have dropped rather nicely for the left-footer.
At that point, Trapattoni had reshaped his side, going to 4-5-1 after introducing Wes Hoolahan and Kevin Doyle at the break and the results were encouraging enough, even if the Greeks seemed content to view the rest of the match as an exercise in defending a lead.
They did it well enough, to be fair, although O’Shea had a decent looking header blocked by Alexandros Tziolis and the visitors had to scramble their way out of trouble more than once.
Coleman also represented a persistent thorn in their side with the full back’s pace and purpose going forward forcing them to concede a steady succession of free-kicks.
Ultimately, Trapattoni’s men simply couldn’t make anything of them, which is disappointing given they will surely find the going no easier against Sweden in the spring. For the moment, though, the newcomers are showing promise and the team appears to be progressing with its new, more attractive pattern of play. On nights like these, that amounts to a result of sorts.