Draw for uneasy Ireland

 

A disappointing night for the Irish under-18s at Richmond Park ended with Brian Kerr's side having to settle for a draw against their second UEFA qualifying group opponents, Poland.

The result leaves the host team needing a win against the Russians in their final match tomorrow if they are to stay in the hunt to become only the third team in the history of the competition to retain a European title at this level.

If they are to pull it off they will have to play considerably better than this, for last night's performance was very different from the one that earned them such a comfortable victory over Cyprus on Monday. So obviously in command for long stretches then, the Irish defence last night looked continually unsettled when on the ball and their nervousness perhaps caused unease in the rest of the team. Indeed, the sort of midfield spark that had helped to destroy the Cypriots was notably absent this time.

At the back, Jason Gavin, in particular, had problems throughout the evening but behind him goalkeeper Joe Murphy looked unsteady more than once when the Poles managed to get forward in numbers. However, for all the problems they caused the Irish, they never really looked likely to pull the win off. But while their eagerness to secure victory was obvious enough they also managed to defend solidly. Throughout the game they marked all of Ireland's attacking tightly and quickly closed down any of those who ventured forward from the centre of the field.

Having been handed the responsibility of leading the attack, Gary Doherty struggled to make an impact and it was striking partner Richie Baker who provided most of the home side's best chances. Certainly the run he made for Ireland's opener was one of the brightest moments Ireland produced and the determination of Colin Healy to force the ball home after his first attempt to steer Baker's cross goalwards had been well saved was impressive.

The goal, however, only got the Irish back on level terms as, just four minutes into the game, John Frost and his goalkeeper had suffered a costly break down in communications that had handed Adam Paluszek a tap in from a couple of yards.

When, 64 minutes later, Wojciech Fanianowski, got the Poles' second, the defending wasn't a great deal better with at least two opportunities to clear the danger being cavalierly passed up by the boys in green.

In between, the Irish were on top, but apart from the 42nd minute goal that gave them the lead they could find no way to beat Michal Wrobel in the visitors' goal and for long stretches simply working out ways to make him show what he was capable of caused them enough problems.

The second Irish goal was the result of some Polish carelessness in their own box, Healy eventually striking the loose ball and Barrett turning it home. Shaun Byrne, though, should have scored what would have been a far more impressive effort after good work by Baker, this time down the left.

Then, after Murphy had produced a fine stop at one end to prevent Janusz Dziedzic's shot reaching the bottom right-hand corner Wrobel got back onto his line brilliantly to push Baker's chip from the edge of the box just over his bar. Moments later he did the Russians another favour when he flew high to his left to block Conor O'Grady's firm strike.

It was the last opportunity the Irish had to put themselves in the driving seat for tomorrow's final group match and while it passed, Kerr his men could scarcely complain, qualification now will simply have to be earned the hard way.

Republic Of Ireland: Murphy (Tranmere); O'Halloran (Cork City), Gavin (Middlesbrough), Murphy (Blackburn), Frost (Waterford Utd); Crossley (Celtic), Healy (Celtic), Byrne (West Ham), Barrett (Arsenal); G Doherty (Luton), Baker (Shelbourne). Subs: O'Grady (Sligo Rovers) for O'Halloran (60 mins), K Doherty (Liverpool) for Gavin (77 mins), Drew (Home Farm Everton) for Barrett (88 mins).

Poland: Wrobel; Adamczak; Waislewski, Wloka, Owczarek; Paluszek, Radziwon, Misiewski, Kedzior; Fabianowski, Dziedzic. Subs:

Referee: M Ingvarsson (Sweden).