Brian Kerr: Midfield diamond makes Ireland too predictable
Martin O’Neill’s joy in victory will be tempered by suspensions for Whelan and McClean
Referee Istvan Vad issues a yellow card to Republic of Ireland’s James McClean for a challenge on Georgia’s Giorgi Papunashvili at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Ireland gathered three points but at a severe and frustrating cost. I would never discourage the physicality that Glenn Whelan and James McClean bring to this team but their lack of control on this night robs Ireland of their services when Germany comes to Dublin on October 8th.
Martin O’Neill will be furious at both men’s needless lack of composure.
Whelan uncharacteristically lost the head. Winning that header over Giorgi Papunashvili was fine but the Hungarian referee only yellow carded him because of a prolonged abusive tirade. Then McClean arrived and nearly sliced the ankle off the same Georgia player.
They are both replaceable yet remain vital elements if Ireland are to qualify from Group D. That muddies O’Neill’s formation a little and certainly if we are chasing a late goal next month, McClean’s impact will be missed.
It’s all well and good to have a system based around a midfield diamond but Ireland are sacrificing width in trying to break down sides like Georgia. And breaking down sides is something we are clearly struggling to do.
When Georgian wing backs came at us last night we took the logical approach of dipping balls into the corners for the smart movement of Jon Walters. It largely negated the midfield as an attacking entity.
But the system, O’Neill’s policy these past three matches, needed to legitimise the benching of Aiden McGeady and McClean. I’m not sure it did that. For O’Neill’s tenure to be successful, it’s up Jeff Hendrick and James McCarthy to make the diamond more effective.
Granted, the decision to play three midfielders and no wingers provided scope for Wes Hoolahan. Wes didn’t disappoint as McCarthy covered Coleman, while Hendrick drifted over to cover our converted left back Robbie Brady. But I think the Germans will expose us if we stay with this unstructured formation. A 4-4-1-1 with width will be needed, I feel.
Hendrick and McCarthy worked and ran but didn’t start to dominate until the 60-minute mark. That meant Hoolahan suffered in an over-populated area.
Shane Long had to replace Robbie Keane at half-time, with Ireland needing some muscle up front. The captain wasn’t involved in the game, besides one flash shot over the bar, and he didn’t show well for possession.
Long won ball in the air and on the floor to expose Robbie’s physical limitations. He must now be seen as a late sub and only when we need a goal. It comes back to the shape.
John O’Shea and Whelan mostly exuded authority but we defended like we were on the road. Ciaran Clark is settling in nicely as O’Shea’s partner.
By not having a genuine winger option, Coleman and Brady were forced to twist back inside and not really attack with intent until Long’s introduction.
In the first half Ireland rarely looked like a side gifted a real chance to qualify for the Euros in France, following Georgia’s win over Scotland on Friday. The required high tempo was visible for a few minutes before everything ground to snail’s pace. It was a subdued affair until the late raids.
The crowd was made up of diehards only, and while it was heartening to hear them, it wasn’t until walking down Baggot Street that it felt like a football international was taking place in Dublin 4. That’s an hour before kick-off. Shame. The tempo Ireland craved eventually came on the hour mark and for a time it sounded like a full house.
By this stage O’Neill was dancing on the edge of his technical box, not in the suit mind. He was wearing his working man’s clothes, the tracksuit. A familiar gait, playing every ball, every pass, willing the ball towards that old south terrace end. By now the shape no longer mattered. It was about energy, desire.
Georgia were on the rack as corner after corner whizzed over from Brady’s left foot.
Finally, Walters delivered. Brady had stormed forward before it fell to Jeff Hendrick who finessed and muscled through three defenders before finding a tightly marked Walters. Twinkle-toed bluntness. A real Irish goal. And 69 minutes coming.
With the game all but won we suffered a heavy cost. I understand why Whelan felt aggrieved after winning a header through Papunashvili but his inability to control his emotions, not once but twice, means we are without our anchor for the Germany game.
As if we weren’t already up against it, McClean ran on and rubbed studs down Papunashvili for good measure.
At least McClean’s arrival and Walters drifting right gave us wingers that negated Georgia’s overlapping threat. That’s worth noting even if it didn’t impact on the result.
This was a victory born out of strength of character. So, it’s down to the last two games. Four points would be ideal. Two points might do.