"THERE’S only one San Marino," the mini-Tartan Army gleefully mocked the locals in Dalymount Park last night. Certainly, there wasn’t too much to sing about in this scoreless ‘B’ international, and Irish fans will be hoping for a much livelier affair at Lansdowne Road tonight.
Nevertheless, these games are all about the learning curve, and Pat Devlin and Steve Staunton will take heart from the fact that this experimental Irish side dominated a game in which they had enough chances to win. They will also have been reassured by a handful of fine individual performances, not least from Leicester City’s commanding defender Paddy McCarthy, who made a strong claim for a return to the senior squad.
In the starting 11, the eircom League was represented by two Cork City players, Joe Gamble taking his place on the right side of midfield and Roy O’Donovan looking to transfer his current fine form at club level into a strike partnership with Scunthorpe’s Andy Keogh. And the Cork duo were central to the best move of the first-half when, after 15 minutes, Newcastle United’s Alan O’Brien showed his speed to race up the left flank. His pass inside was swiftly moved on by Keogh to O’Donovan whose clever first-time ball into the path of Gamble ended with his club mate firing over the top.
O’Brien’s pace and crossing was a notable feature of Ireland’s attacking play, until he was forced off with a knock just four minutes before the break, Reading’s Stephen Hunt coming on in his place. Gamble also caught the eye with some typically industrious work and surging runs. On 26 minutes, he again broke forward to release O’Donovan in the box but this time the Cork City man saw his effort saved by Norwich City’s Paul Gallagher at the expense of a corner.
While Stephen McPhail and Darren Gibson enjoyed plenty of possession in midfield, the pick of Ireland’s defence was Paddy McCarthy, the Leicester man – who wore a protective mask for a facial injury — helping to keep Rangers’ striker Kris Boyd under wraps and using the ball intelligently when striding forward out of defence.
With Luton right-full Kevin Foley also impressive at the back, Irish goalkeeper Darren Randolph was troubled only in the last five minutes of the first 45. Ireland’s Gibson appeared to push Scott Brown inside the box but English referee Martin Atkinson took a charitable view, awarding the free kick right on the edge of the area. Kirk Broadfoot teed it up for Michael Stewart but his effort could only ripple the side-netting.
Wolves’ Darren Potter replaced McPhail for the second half, and within minutes of the restart Pat Devlin made further changes, Anthony Stokes, Joe O’Cearuill and Lee Frecklington coming on for O’ Donovan, Alex Bruce and Darron Gibson.
Almost immediately, Stokes showed some of the classy touches which have made him the talk of Irish and Scottish football, but a goal continued to elude Devlin’s side, as Walter Smith also attempted to shake up his team with a series of substitutions. But it was Kris Boyd who came closest to breaking the deadlock, with an opportunistic long-range effort that just went the wrong side of Randolph’s post.
All the changes made it difficult for the game to regain any rhythm, although hard-running Stephen Hunt was at the heart of some of Ireland’s best creative play. And, in the 75th minute, Stokes did well to set up Andy Keogh directly in front of goal, only for his fellow striker to scuff his shot. Later, the Dubliner made an opening for Gamble, but his fierce drive was well turned around the post by substitute ‘keeper Mark Brown.
At the other end, the under-worked Randolph did well with a double save to first keep out Stephen Naismith’s shot and then tip the ball over the top under pressure from Boyd.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND ‘B’: Randolph (Quigley 85), Foley, McCarthy, Bruce (O’Cearuill 51), Emmanuel, Gamble, McPhail (Potter 45), Gibson (Frecklington 51), O’Brien, Keogh (Long 77), O’Donovan (Stokes 51)
SCOTLAND ‘B’: Gallagher (M Brown 45), Whittaker, Broadfoot (Greer 53), Webster, Smith (Adam 60), S. Brown (Miller 53), Stewart, Pearson, Naismith, Boyd, Clark (McEvely)..
Referee: Martin Atkinson (England).