Brian Kerr: Ireland rewarded for positive approach and resilience
Victory against Scotland in June is now essential for Euro 2016 qualification hopes
The resilience shown by the Republic of Ireland players is important.
Shane Long’s goal keeps this tough qualification campaign on track but victory against Scotland in June is now essential. Simple as that, a draw will not be enough.
We don’t want to be chasing six points at home to Germany and away to Poland at the end.
But the players earned this point. Martin O’Neill made the correct decisions too. Putting Jon Walters up beside Robbie Keane and keeping faith in Wes Hoolahan turned the screw. O’Neill also made the correct decision to put the excellent James McClean on for Aiden McGeady. And Long for Glenn Whelan was another adventurous call that paid off handsomely.
Last night was like the Giants Stadium in 1994 or Stade de France when Thierry Henry broke Irish hearts. Only difference was the Poles did to us what we have done to other nations down the years.
Slawomir Peszko’s goal was even an Irish looking goal with its harrying and quick raiding nature.
Special atmosphereLike their players, Poland expatriates flooded Lansdowne road from early evening with real intent, ensuring a special atmosphere around south Dublin and inside the Aviva Stadium.
A football international around these parts desperately needed such a gathering. The Ireland fans down in the old south terrace end took up the challenge but there were spare seats in central sections on the upper deck and corporate area.
Those in the FAI’s most expensive seats didn’t have any interest in braving the second-half cold. You could see them looking through the windows.
A depressing sign of the times. It almost gave Poland supporters the run of the place. By the end, with the green flame all but extinguished, the new Irish may as well have been back home singing into the Warsaw night.
James McClean’s arrival silenced them. Or at least enraged them. His vicious tackle on Arkadiusz Milik turned the crowd’s hue from red to green.
But it was a return to the terrace days of our youth up in Dalymount.
The Poles, up the north end were standing all night and so did the green army down south. Eyeball-to-eyeball stuff, making for an ideal backdrop.
Attacking line-upO’Neill had a feel for the occasion by fielding an attacking line-up, just like Ireland always should do at home. His was a team picked to pass the ball with Hoolahan and James McCarthy in central roles. With the amount of six footers in the Poland team we had little choice.
Robbie Brady at left back, Hoolahan playing in behind Keane and McCarthy at the core of it all was certainly the most impressive attacking approach I’ve seen from an Ireland side for many, many years.
The logic was heartening. The collective passion took a while to follow. Again, see McClean’s barely controlled rage.
Of course, the result was always going to dictate whether O’Neill would be labelled brave or foolish for this selection. The wily manager knows this only too well.
It was Brady’s error for the goal but Marc Wilson did have a chance to salvage matters. It came from Peszko’s industry, hustling Brady into the initial mistake before Maciej Rybus got under Wilson’s skin and then a lovely left-footed finish by Peszko.
Twenty-five minutes played. One chance. One-nil. Loads of time for Brady and Ireland to atone. It was his corner at the end so he should be forgiven.
My concern was not Brady at this juncture but McCarthy. This compact Polish midfield four – assured in their well established roles, in stark contrast to Ireland who were trying to operate a brand new structure, only composed in Malahide last week – applied constant pressure on McCarthy and Glenn Whelan. That had a domino effect for the Ireland full backs.
Brady was the fall guy. His free kicks were mixed, below his usual quality.
It also meant Hoolahan was living off scraps while Keane was left isolated and fairly anonymous. That was eventually changed with Hoolahan dropping deeper and to the left, McGeady on the right and Walters going to centre forward.
The control we crave in the centre of the pitch was finally evident in the second half. We have been waiting for that since this campaign began.
The movement of Hoolahan and McGeady, coming in from the wings allowed Brady and Seamus Coleman to push forward. It meant proper service for the strikers.
That could have been how Ireland started. It’s a tactical error by O’Neill but, either way, the aggression needed to match Poland was not evident until we went one-nil down.
McClean arrived late like a man possessed. He started beating players and putting the ball into the Polish box. Keane had one chance from a McClean cross. He missed.
That was the night really. Poland had one chance and scored. Ireland had a few more but wasted them until Long’s cool finish. At least we won’t regret Coleman’s poor shot.
We move on with no fear of a trip to Warsaw down the road. Revenge over Scotland must be the priority now.