Ireland 0 Wales 0: Five things we learned

McClean continues to grow and grow, Ireland lack creativity but have plenty of guts

 

James McClean is quickly becoming Ireland’s main man

It was a huge night for the Derry man after an extremely tough week which saw him lose two close friends in Ryan McBride and Martin McGuinness.

While the McClean of old might have got carried away with the emotion of it all, it shows just how far he’s come and the high esteem in which O’Neill holds him that he was trusted to put in a shift on Friday night.

And put in a shift he did. He was Ireland’s best player for the whole match and at times was the only one going forward with a bit of pace, particularly in the first half when it was all a bit dull.

His snapshot which flashed wide on 73 minutes almost resulted in a deserved goal that would have capped an excellent performance.

However, it must be remembered that not so long ago McClean was nothing more than an impact substitute for Ireland – kept back to come off the bench and up the tempo with 15 minutes to go.

Now he’s at the front and centre of everything and will only be even more so for the remainder of the campaign with captain Coleman facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Gareth Bale’s threat can be negated

The Real Madrid man was always going to be the main danger but Ireland did well to limit him to nothing more than a few long range shots.

Bale flitted between the right wing, the left wing and a central role but was tracked all the way. Walters and McClean worked tirelessley on the flanks to track the Welsh talisman with McClean getting an early “let him know you’re there” tackle in.

While it wasn’t quite Roy Keane on Marc Overmars in 2001 it set a tone which Ireland maintained for the duration of the 90 minutes.

However, only for a matter of inches would it have been a different story entirely.

Right at the start of the second half Bale had a long range free kick well held by Darren Randolph but he was ominously scoping out his range.

Three minutes later he came within inches of breaking the deadlock when he worked a half a yard of space 25 yards from goal and flashed a left foot shot just wide.

With five minutes to go he nearly stole the show when he pounced on a loose Richard Keogh header on the right wing, cut inside and hit a swerving shot just past Randolph’s right hand post.

World class players are always going to get a chance or two in 90 minutes but Ireland must be commended for limiting them to 25 yard efforts when it came to Bale on this occasion.

Without Robbie Brady Ireland struggle at set pieces

What was perhaps the most obviously missing component off the back of Ireland’s long injury list was the effectiveness of set pieces.

With Robbie Brady on the dead ball situations Ireland pose a real danger but on Friday night there was little or nothing of that end.

An aimless John O’Shea free kick from inside the Wales half which didn’t even make it into their box and dropped 30 yards from goal set the tone early in the first half while Glenn Whelan’s efforts from closer in weren’t much better.

The Stoke man had the most joy from corners when he went short to Aiden McGeady after he came on while two central free kicks in good positions both crashed into the Welsh wall off the boot of McClean.

Ireland have guts, guts and more guts

It’s long been a trademark of Ireland teams that they make the absolute most of their – often limited – qualities.

That trademark was undoubtedly on full show on Friday. They hassled and harried Wales while also roughing them up with a number of late challenges that were lucky not to see cards – Shane Long’s soulder to the jaw of Ashley Williams and Whelan catching the chin of Joe Allen with an elbow are the two that stand out.

Keogh’s loose header to the feet of Bale late on was the only real defensive slip up and all in all it was an accomplished performance in a game that Martin O’Neill was always going to be happy to take a draw from.

Creative forces are thin on the ground in this Ireland squad

Wes Hoolahan and Robbie Brady on the absentee list was always going to cause problems and left Ireland badly lacking in any sort of creativity.

Jeff Hendrick played slightly more central than usual but had a rare anonymous performance where he barely got on the ball and created no chances.

A prime example of that is the fact that the closest Ireland came was from McClean’s snapshot off the back of a clearing punch from Hennessey.

While Shane Long made a number of runs in behind the Wales defence he had little or nothing to feed off bar knock downs from the head of Jonathan Walters.

Ireland were reduced to the long balls which have become a regular sight when those creative players are missing.

Hoolahan is needed to get on the ball and bring players like Hendrick, McClean and Walters into the game in more effective positions than they found themselves in.

Without him there wasn’t a through ball or touch of flair in sight.

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