Poland finally Klich to end Ireland’s hope of a famous win
Aiden O’Brien scores on his international debut in Wroclaw but Ireland can't hold on
Aiden O’Brien heads home to give the Republic of Ireland the lead in the friendly international against Poland at the Stadion Miejski in Wroclaw. Photograph: Steven Paston/PA Wire.
Poland 1 Republic of Ireland 1
More than once down the years, Ireland teams have come to Poland to lick their wounds immediately after the conclusion of an unsuccessful qualifying campaign but it is hard to imagine the manager or players were feeling much more raw than Martin O’Neill and co coming into this one.
It was the 1974 World Cup that had just been missed out on when the team was last in this particular neck of the woods, but whoever was in charge of the music inside the city’s Euro 2012 stadium greeted the first of the Irish fans in through the doors with The Boys are Back in Town.
The surroundings and political system have changed a bit in the intervening years and the visitors managed to improve on the 2-0 defeat suffered back then with O’Neill’s Ireland holding out for a draw after having led thanks to a goal by Aiden O’Brien on his debut.
Of course, there was nothing like the pressure involved in the competitive games, but the performance will still do something to counter the criticism that has followed the defeats by Denmark and Wales. O’Neill will be hoping to field a very different starting line-up when those two come calling again next month.
The most obvious issue with his selection on this occasion was the omission of Matt Doherty, the Wolves right wing back whose start to the Premier League season certainly seemed to suggest that, with Séamus Coleman out, he would be in line for an extended opportunity to show he can cope with life at this level.
Even with both of the full backs who started last Thursday absent, though, and O’Neill choosing to replace the rest of his defence, there was still no room for the Dubliner. We can only hope that injury wasn’t heaped upon injury by the manager having his assistant explain to a disappointed player just how they feel he might get more out of himself.
Perhaps the feeling was that Cyrus Christie brought a bit more experience and Enda Stevens had done well enough after coming on to merit the start. But it still seemed a strange call from a manager who spends a good deal of his time lamenting the fact that he has so few Premier League regulars to choose from that he had decided against having a second involved from the start here. As it transpired, he got the guts of the second half and did nothing much wrong.
The initial call might have come back to haunt the Ireland manager early in the opening half when Stevens stumbled badly while trying to get back towards Arkadiusz Milik as the striker arrived unmarked at the far post to meet a flicked-on throw in. Luckily for the left sided wing back, his man somehow missed the target.
It wouldn’t be the last time that the reshaped Irish defence seemed to be winging it slightly around its own area but then Darren Randolph wasn’t actually required to do a lot until the closing few minutes when Poland dramatically upped the tempo in the hope of grabbing a late winner.
In a desperately slow start to the game, Ireland looked relatively tidy with a much changed side, employing a 3-5-2 formation and anchored in the centre by Thursday’s goalscorer, Shaun Williams. They kept the ball rather well for spells, although the tempo and a willingness to keep much of the play well within the safety of their own half certainly helped to boost the pass completion rate.
Making his first start Williams looked composed as he sought to keep things moving in the centre of midfield and his Milwall team-mate O’Brien looked endlessly eager to impress. The striker had Ireland’s only shot of the first half when he fired over from an angle after aerial pressure from Richard Keogh had turned a Christie throw-in into a significant opportunity. He then left his marker behind to flick home Ireland’s goal eight minutes into the second when Keogh laid the ball off to Callum O’Dowda, whose curling cross was inch perfect.
The Irish never threatened again but held their own well enough until the closing stages. The whole occasions seemed perfectly set up for Robert Lewandowski to come off the bench to win his 100th cap and save the home side’s day and those amongst the 25,455 strong crowd who had been counting Jerzy Brzeczek’s substitutions made their displeasure known when it became clear that the Bayern Munich star’s special moment would come on another night.
They went home happy, though, after Leeds United’s Mateusz Klich suddenly opened the Irish defence up with a nice exchange of passes followed with a coolheaded finish low to Randolph’s left.
It might have been worse for Ireland in the moments that followed with Randolph having to produce his best stop of the night and Poland passing up a late opportunity or two to win the game. But that would have been harsh on O’Neill and his players, a few of whom will look back on this as a night when they made a half-decent case for themselves.
The manager is adamant that the results of the last two campaigns are more than good enough to make his case but he will be relieved nevertheless to take even the draw from this, to have at least a couple of his players suggest they can cope with a significant transition in the team’s style of play and to lift the mood before the far greater tests to come in mid November .
POLAND: Szczesny; Kedziora, Glik, Kaminski, Reca; Kurzawa, Krychowiak, Linetty, Blaszczykowski; Piatek, Milik.
Subs: Kadzior for Kurzawa (half-time), Bednarek for Glik and Klich for Piatek (both 61 mins). Pietrzak for Reca (72 mins), Szymanski for Krychowiak (73 mins), Frankowski for Blaszczykowski (81 mins).
IRELAND: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Christie (Fulham), Egan (Sheffield United), Keogh (Derby County), Long (Burnley), Stevens (Sheffield United); Hendrick (Burnley), Robinson (Preston).
Subs: Meyler (Reading) for Hendrick and Doherty (Wolves) for Christie (both 53 mins), Burke (Preston) for Robinson (63 mins), Hourihane (Aston Villa) for Williams (73 mins), Horgan (Hibernian) for O’Brien (81 mins), Judge (Brentford) for O’Dowda) 90 mins.
Referee: B Marhefka (Slovakia).