Kilbane struggles to explain display


 Players' reaction: This could yet be a memorable year for Kevin Kilbane, but the growing danger after Saturday night is that 2005 may turn out to be one he will have to strive long and hard to forget.

As January kicked in, the midfielder's club, Everton, were firmly on course for Champions League football next season, while Ireland had taken small but significant steps towards the country's fourth World Cup finals. Three months on and things are not progressing so smoothly on either front for the former West Brom and Sunderland player.

Everton's fate, at least, will be decided by their performance over 38 games, and even after a prolonged poor spell there is still time for the Merseyside club to get things right again.

Ireland's place in Germany next summer will be won or lost in just 10 outings, and so late slip-ups like Saturday's could well prove the difference between success and failure.

None of which was lost on the 28-year-old as he left the Ramat-Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv. Taking just one point from a game the Irish had good cause to feel they could win is a significant setback, but not, insisted the midfielder, enough to derail a campaign that had looked to be going so well after draws in Basel and Paris.

"Of course it's disappointing for us," he said. "The lads in the dressing-room probably felt that it was like a defeat the way it finished up. But what we have to do now is accept the fact that we took a point here, we have Israel, the French and the Swiss in Dublin, and we need to make the home games count.

"We've always said that we had to make the home games count, and it's more true than ever now.

"It's left us at a bit of a disadvantage, because I think it's fair to say that France could win here. They've got quality players, haven't they? They haven't started the group the way they would have liked, but they have enough to come here and get a result and get a win.

"I certainly felt during the week that we would come here and win the game, but then, realistically, if you're going to win the group, you're going to have aspirations to come here and win."

Kilbane struggled as he sought to pinpoint where it had gone wrong on Saturday. The visiting team, he said, had been the better side and for long spells the Israelis had not been able to make a serious impact. Gradually, though, the locals had gotten back into the contest and Ireland's grip on the game had slipped considerably long before Abbas Suan pounced in the 90th minute to grab Avraham Grant's team a draw.

"After we'd scored early on, we had a bit of a sticky spell for five to 10 minutes. Other than that, I thought we were in control of the game, although without doing that little bit extra. We just didn't do enough.

"To be fair, I don't think they posed much of a threat through the game. They had a couple of shots from long-range and that's what we restricted them to, even if ultimately it was a long-range shot that got them back into the game.

"We were playing in a controlled manner without going on and really pushing on. What we did wasn't enough to see us through to victory. And to be fair, they went for it a bit. In the first half, they were playing two up front with one in behind, but in the second half they pushed the two lads wide and one through the middle so they went three up front.

"Even then, Shay (Given) wasn't in too much difficulty," he observed. "The back two - Andy (O'Brien) and Kenny (Cunningham) - coped with what they threw at us. I don't know what happened really.

"The lads were saying in there (the dressing-room), and I feel it myself as well, we probably expect to create more chances. As a team and a group, we have some talented players. But we didn't, and late on I think the problem for us was that we were just lashing the ball.

"We didn't clear it in a particularly professional manner and we had everybody behind the ball - even Robbie (Keane) was helping out - and Clinton (Morrison) was gone off by then, so when we were clearing the ball we didn't have anybody chasing the ball and maintaining the attacking side of things.

"It's really not that we were poor," he concluded, "I really thought we were comfortable for long spells, but I suppose we just didn't do enough on the attacking side of things."

Suan, meanwhile, said his goal was the perfect answer to those supporters who racially abused him during a league game last month. His first international goal prompted a section of the crowd to break into song about the Arab player, with a considerable number joining in the chant, "Abbas Suan is Jewish".

"This is my answer to everybody for what happened last month," he said. "Everybody was hugging me in the dressing-room afterwards and they will be celebrating tonight, not just in the Arab regions but in the whole country."