First steps made on the road to change


Even with a squad devoid of our most experienced players the future doesn’t seem so daunting any more after this display, writes LEE CARSLEY

IF DAMIEN Duff, Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne decide to follow Shay Given into Irish football’s version of Valhalla, the players we saw last night will carry the hopes of a nation into the Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign.

That’s fine by me.

This game wasn’t about passing judgment on the next wave of Irish footballers. Granted, there was no stand-out performances but it’s important to remember this was a friendly in August.

Still I watched James McClean, James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady in a midfield anchored by Glenn Whelan and, well, the future doesn’t seem so daunting anymore.

They just need time to gel.

The major concern coming into this fixture was that our Godfather would stick to what he has always done.

When Giovanni Trapattoni first arrived he quickly presumed Ireland lacked the depth of talent to play offensive football. Well, that has changed but I feared he was not going to alter his old Italian ways.

He did try something new last night. The system that failed against Europe’s elite was shelved for this Belgrade experiment.

After only a few days with a squad devoid of our most experienced players ever, the Republic of Ireland made the first attempt at evolving.

That’s what pre-season football is all about. When you arrive back into a successful set-up only a few tweaks are required but after the trauma of June it was essential that the system was shook up.

Trapattoni might call it 4-3-3, considering Simon Cox was pushed wide right, but it looked more like 4-5-1.

The most important point is that it was a fluid system, which allowed McClean and McGeady play to their strengths – finding space and scaring opposition defenders.

With big Jonathan Walters up front on his own, it meant we would not be overrun in midfield. That had to be job number one.

I found it interesting to hear the Serbian coach Mihajlovic say beforehand that he would play 4-3-3 because he didn’t want to be too predictable.

Trapattoni also moved away from the deep-lying 4-4-2. After two qualifying campaigns and a major tournament, finally, there was some change.

It doesn’t really matter that some players were played out of position. That happens when a team is trying to improve. Some guys will be asked to give up their usual role at club level for the international cause.

McClean has made a name for himself in the Premier League as a winger. He started off in the middle last night, behind Walters. Because he is a good footballer and had Whelan in behind for security so the team could play with a little more risk, a little more swagger.

That’s what players, who are comfortable on the ball, like McClean, McCarthy and McGeady allow a football team to do. A lone striker is inevitably going to get isolated. That’s why it is important to chop the pitch up into thirds.

It means when we attack the entire team is moving through the thirds. If the ball is lost it means others can immediately press the ball to win it back or deny them a chance to counter. This didn’t happen last night.

The most important aspect of tactical planning is to have a Plan B and C to turn to during a game. There was no sign of that in Poland. Last night, come the second-half, it looked like we switched to 4-2-3-1.

To be honest, the second 45 was tough viewing. We got stranded in our own half, playing far too deep. An old habit.

When we did win possession we seemed to ignore the extra man in midfield. These players are not used to having that option. That will take time.

We’d win the ball and send it far too quickly from front to back. There was always another short pass available to allow the midfield get up in support of Walters.

But we were too rushed, ensuring a long old night for the isolated Stoke striker.

Still, others showed well. John O’Shea at centre back looked comfortable, that may be his future position, as we have full backs like Seamus Coleman.

It was a missed opportunity not to see Seamus at full back even if Stephen Kelly played solidly. I think Coleman should be allowed establish himself on the flank when fit.

James McCarthy put in an impressive shift in the middle and deserves another opportunity, while Keiren Westwood looked composed.

Keane, Duff and Dunne have served their time in a green jersey. They owe us nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope to see them playing for Ireland again, especially Dunne as the defence still needs him now Shay is gone, but there are plenty of new lads coming through.

We will have a strong squad come the qualifiers. I said it yesterday: every footballer is replaceable. It’s all about ensuring the succession planning is managed correctly.

The first step has been made.

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