Lack of invention impossible to fathom


It's always the way: concede a late goal like that and everyone is completely deflated. And then there's a sense of gloom and doom and that feeling that Israel's equaliser will prove so, so costly to us in this campaign. I understand the negativity - it's natural under the circumstances - but it's really got to be minimised.

Yes, we should have won, and yes, my feeling has always been that whoever won in Israel would top the group, but in any standard of football if you win your home games and draw away you're never far from your target. If we really dissect it, then, it's not the end of the world: after playing our three strongest opponents in the group - Switzerland, France and Israel - away from home we're unbeaten.

But, of course, we should have taken all three points on Saturday night. I thought we were professional; we kept them at arm's length, made them play really narrow. But the irony for me is that Matty Holland was put on at the end to give us an extra body in midfield and then for the first time in the game, when they scored, there was a big hole in front of our back four. At that stage we had Roy Keane, Kevin Kilbane and Holland in there, so, because there were numbers, it was a classic case of them all assuming somebody else would be there - and for once, they weren't. So we were done.

Daft and all as it sounds, you really can score too early in a game. You've not done the hard work at that stage so there's a temptation to coast a little bit. After 20 minutes if it's still 0-0 you're striving. After four minutes and you're 1-0 up you're not striving; you're thinking, "This is alright. This is really comfortable." And therein lies the problem.

Brian Kerr will have told them, "This lot aren't bad at home, it's a full house, don't give them any encouragement whatsoever." But all of a sudden, within four minutes, you're one up, so psychologically players go, "What was the manager on about? We're going to cruise through this." It just makes a two, three, four per-cent difference to what you put in to it, but that can be crucial.

We went in 1-0 at half-time, no problems. They didn't really cut us open. A couple of mistakes maybe and a save from Shay Given from the free kick, but fine, you expect your goalkeeper to have to make a couple of saves away from home.

Second half, 10, 15 minutes gone. Again they don't score, so from there you should push on and try and get the second to kill them off. But that didn't happen. So for me it was the second half of the second half that was the disappointing bit. They made a couple of substitutions and began to push on. We should have countered that.

I didn't think we were inventive enough; that would be my biggest criticism. I thought Damien Duff played really well, looked a real handful, but we never created a clearcut chance after we scored. Israel were one of the narrowest international teams I've ever seen. Everything had to go through the middle, which suited us - we were just mopping it up. The problem was we didn't have enough to kick on and get a second goal.

It surprised me Andy Reid didn't appear. Kerr went with Steve Finnan, who is limited going forward. Reid is such a responsible player you can play him from the start, no worries. And what did they have coming down the left? I didn't see anything. So why couldn't Reid play on the right? On the other side we were getting Duff free and he was causing problems - I'm damn sure Reid would have caused problems on the right.

For almost the entire game Keane and Kilbane were cruising. It was easy. In light of that you have to ask why not put Reid in there. Keane and Kilbane get the ball and give it to Duff or Reid out wide and suddenly we look a completely different team, more options. It was just a little bit too cautious for me.

I'm sure Kerr must have known how narrow they play. When you play against a team like that you know they're not going to open you up, so you try to do it to them. It went out to Finnan and it just came back. He didn't do anything wrong, he didn't give the ball away, but nothing came from him. If Reid had the same amount of possession as Finnan and Carr down that side you know you'd have got some end product.

So, yes, overall the result is a blow, but while we have difficult games to come the most difficult, against Switzerland, France and Israel, are at home. We basically know we have to win, at the very least, two of our three home games, and beat Cyprus and the Faroes away - that's what's required. France, for me, are the big worry, despite their draw against Switzerland. I expect them to beat Israel on Wednesday and I've a feeling we'll get two or three successive wins from them after that.

We'll see. As Kerr himself forecast there are plenty of twists and turns to come yet.