Ireland unable to expose poor Wales side
Trapattoni’s side toothless in attack and guilty of letting early promise slip again
Republic of Ireland’s Shane Long saw his shot saved by Wales goalkeeper Boaz Myhill (out of picture) as defender Ashley Williams (right) tries to block. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire
Wales 0 Republic of Ireland 0: He may console himself now with the fact that it was all rather meaningless but if Giovanni Trapattoni was serious about reflecting after this game on how well equipped his side is to tackle Sweden next month then he has some fretting to do.
True, Ireland’s third straight draw in Cardiff makes it one loss in seven this year but Wales are no world beaters and they held their own rather comfortably here against an Irish side whose defending and finishing both provided cause for concern over the course of the night.
The visitors started the game as brightly as they started any in recent times with the team producing a period early on in which their passing and movement was the sort of thing the Italian’s critics have been crying out for. As it so often does, though, the team struggled to retain either its sense of purpose or the ball as the night wore on and while they might well have nicked it late on courtesy of either Shane Long or Paddy Madden, they would have been flattered by a victory.
The intensity of the game, to be fair, was never going to be all that great with every one of the Welsh, even without Gareth Bale, and quite a few of their opponents looking as though they had a morning medical on their minds.
Still, it was nice that the Irish at least looked to be making something of the time and space they were being afforded early on, even if it didn’t last. Within a quarter of an hour the pattern of the game was turned on its head with the hosts getting on top and the general quality of the contest generally taking a tumble from which it never quite recovered.
Neither side actually managed to managed to force a save from the opposing goalkeeper until well after the break but there were worrying signs for Trapattoni as news filtered through that Zlatan Ibrahimovic had bagged a hat trick in Sweden’s friendly with Norway with his back five here having to wing it at times against somewhat inferior opponents.
Keiren Westwood, in particular, looked shaky on a couple of the occasions he was called into action early on. His failure to connect with a Craig Bellamy corner a quarter of an hour in almost resulted in Ashley Williams having a free header at the far post while a fairly hapless attempt to clear the ball after John O’Shea had passed it to him not long afterwards ended with the generally impressive Jonathan Williams firing narrowly wide from distance.
O’Shea had his moments which is just as well because, having kept the ball so impressively through the opening stages, the Irish midfield rediscovered the knack for the playing the team into trouble with Glenn Whelan – making his 50th appearance for his country – the culprit more than once.
Still, the plan of having the StokeCity player sit while James McCarthy was allowed to push things forward showed promise at times.
Outside them, Robbie Brady and Jon Walters did their best to get forward in support of Shane Long while Wes Hoolahan sought to open things up for them all. The results were decidedly mixed with Brady shooting when he should have set up Walters, Long firing over when he should have scored and the extent of Hoolahan’s influence varied significantly over the course of the evening.
The Dubliner always looked capable of producing the sort of pass that might trouble the locals and, as when he sent Seamus Coleman racing clear down the right early in the second half, he pulled it off with some style a few times but the case he made for inclusion was nowhere near as compelling here as it has been in the past.
Coleman, like Marc Wilson at left back, did well again and provided further evidence of the improvement in the defensive side of his game when getting back to prevent Jonathan Williams from getting in a short cross just before the break.
The collective defending for the corner that followed was poor, though, with Bellamy playing the ball short to Ben Davies who should really have done better with his angled shot. The Irish might have had more problems from play if Williams’s generally stand out performance hadn’t been tarnished slightly by a habit of misplacing or mistiming his final pass.
As it was, the set pieces were a concern and after Whelen had brought down Williams 20 metres out, Westwood finally had to make a save, which he did well, to prevent Bellamy’s curling effort from reaching the top left corner.
At the other end, a little later, Boaz Myhill shouldn’t have had any chance of preventing Long opening the scoring when the striker raced clear of his marker to meet a flick on from Madden but the shot was straight at the goalkeeper.
Myhill did rather more to keep Madden at bay in the closing stages although his save was eclipsed by Ashley Williams’s diving block seconds later which prevented James McClean’s attempted follow up from reaching the target. The Wigan winger might well have had his first international goal but missed out.
Madden then fluffed a volley to leave slightly disappointed too but Coleman, at least got to finish the night as skipper with the armband having been passed from O’Shea to Long to Walters to him as Trapattoni, with club relations on his mind no doubt, replaced around half his team.
There may no more fitting way, perhaps, to remember these August friendlies.