Brian Kerr: third place achievable but more balance needed

I feel we need at least one winger in the team to stretch Georgia’s defence

One of the positives of the Martin O’Neill era has been his willingness to move with the times and use different tactical and organisational shapes for our team

One of the positives of the Martin O’Neill era has been his willingness to move with the times and use different tactical and organisational shapes for our team

 

Scotland’s failure to get even a point in Tbilisi on Friday was a welcome shock. The scenario now is that, remarkably, Ireland can take the play-off place without a single win against Germany, Poland or Scotland. All they need to do is gain as many points as the Scots over the last three group games – and that’s doable now. Of course, three points tonight are crucial.

The win and performance on Friday in Faro was as expected: easy enough but mixed at times. Gibraltar were more stubborn and better organised than they were in the Dublin trashing, and they had spells in the game when they threatened the goal. Their opportunities mostly came through Cyrus Christie’s mistakes and our lop-sided team shape. But more of that later.

Christie’s individual goal in the first half and his brilliant defensive header denying Roy Chipolina a goal were vital, but otherwise his display didn’t convince me that he’s good enough yet for games against better opposition.

There was plenty of energy around the midfield area, even if we lacked width and balance. While Robbie Brady’s delivery of crosses was inconsistent, the best ones, along with Wes Hoolahan’s passing, created lots of chances for the hard-working Jon Walters and the now 67-goal Robbie Keane.

One of the positives of the Martin O’Neill era has been his willingness to move with the times and use different tactical and organisational shapes for our team. The realisation that it’s almost impossible to survive in the vital central midfield area with an old style 4-4-2 system never registered with Giovanni Trapattoni. But O’Neill’s inclination for a more pragmatic approach is sensible. Only against the likes of Gibraltar can a team get away with 4-4-2 nowadays.

But generally what we have seen to date in the group has been a 4-2-3-1 formation with Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy as the holding midfielders and different combinations of the front four.

Some of the problems O’Neill has discovered to date have been that Keane is ineffective as a loan central striker nowadays, as in Germany and Georgia.

Second Captains

Also, It’s hard to get away with playing two wingers like Aiden McGeady and James McClean, as was the case in Scotland, unless there is a three-man central set-up. And if Hoolahan, for too long in the wilderness, doesn’t play, as happened in Georgia, Germany and Scotland, the team doesn’t have a creative force that can penetrate the opposition’s defence with a pass or control the direction of the attacks by switching the play from side to side.

Diamond

In identifying these problems O’Neill has tried a new diamond midfield system for our last two games when, unusually for Ireland teams over the last four years, there was no McClean or McGeady.

The four used with Whelan at the base and McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick on either side allows for the inclusion of Wes in the central position behind the strikers where he is most effective. But there are other problems ahead with that set-up.

Theoretically the team should be more compact in midfield with the three there, but neither McCarthy nor Hendrick has looked comfortable in these roles, with McCarthy isolated and outnumbered at times, frequently leaving Christie without support or a passing option when in possession on Friday.

The team was lopsided in each game; to the left on Friday when Brady, Hoolahan, Hendrick and Walters operated effectively, whereas against Scotland it was all right-sided with Walters on that side and Coleman getting forward.

More precise organisational work needs to be done on the training ground if this formation is to be persisted with. Against Germany or Poland my fear is that we will be outnumbered and outflanked by superior opposition than today’s. A clearer more balanced look to the shape of both sides of the team is required, but somehow I feel a more structured 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1 will be the case in October if we win today.

Georgia caused us lots of problems at times back in September, McGeady getting a late brilliant winner when we probably deserved no more than a draw.

While they’ve always looked more brittle away from home, that win on Friday has given a quick return on the appointment of new coach Kakhaber Tskhadadze, and I expect them to show the resilience we last saw against Trap’s team in Croke Park in 2009, when we needed two late goals from Robbie to win 2-1. We’ll settle for that tonight.

Two-goal haul

While their wingbacks Ucha Lobzhanidze and Solomon Kverkvelia like to get forward, they’re very average defenders, and McGeady’s two-goal haul in Tbilisi may press his selection ahead of Hendrick for tonight. I still feel we need at least one winger in the team to stretch their defence and to give the option of an overlapping fullback getting in behind them. Either McGeady or McClean can fit the bill.

So then, what shape does the coach play – and keep Walters, Keane and Hoolahan in the 11?

A little dilemma to deal with. Get all your best players on the pitch, keep the team well balanced to attack and defend on both sides and win the game.

No bother to you, Martin. Get on with it and let’s get it done. And let’s have some real tension in October.

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