As Ireland’s players and the swathes of FAI support staff made their way for the exits at MetLife Stadium late Thursday night, there was a noticeable haste to their step, writes Joe Callaghan from the MetLife Stadium.
They had a charter flight back to Dublin to catch. But there was also a suspicion that they couldn’t wait to get out of New Jersey.
This place has not been kind to Martin O’Neill’s side these past three years. Mexico wholly outclassed Ireland here before easing up for a 3-1 defeat that followed an equally one-sided 5-1 loss to Portugal at the same venue in 2014.
But while that was an end-of-season, no-strings affair, this error-strewn performance is likely to be more closely examined by O’Neill, Roy Keane and co. Ireland face Austria in a World Cup qualifier of great importance on Sunday week. O’Neill had wanted to get answers to some pressing questions Stateside. But he travelled home with few.
“You are disappointed to concede goals at any given stage,” he said afterwards. “You mentioned earlier what can we learn from the game, I think a great deal, all over the pitch at certain stages in the game Mexico dealt with the ball very, very well and I thought were much fitter than us.”
Jesus Corona, Raul Jimenez and Carlos Vela had the Mexicans three goals clear before the hour mark and it could have been more but for Darren Randolph’s sharpness in the Ireland goal. O’Neill had experimented with a 3-5-2 formation but it was a test that was aborted soon after the hour with the returning Shane Duffy an unsure presence in between Richard Keogh and John Egan.
The midfield trio of Conor Hourihane, Daryl Horgan and Callum O’Dowda hadn’t helped the rearguard out a whole pile as Hector Herrera and Jonathan Dos Santos took command in the middle. As a result Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick were largely left isolated up front as Ireland floundered for an hour and more, Cyrus Christie arguably their only positive outlet.
“We have to try [3-5-2], that’s the whole point, that’s what I said in the last two or three days, let’s have a look at it, because we might have to do it at some point in our World Cup campaign, we might have to change systems,” insisted O’Neill.
“You can play number of systems but you have to deal with situations. Mexico played much better than us, they deserved to win the game. As far as I’m concerned, it was great, I was delighted to take on, I thought it was great preparation.”
O’Neill’s positive outlook was probably helped by the way his team finished the contest. With two debutants — Burnley’s Kevin Long and Preston’s Alan Browne — sprung fro the bench, it was another substitute, Stephen Gleeson, who grabbed Ireland’s consolation on 77 minutes.
It could have been even more respectable as skipper James McClean, who had given away the penalty that Jimenez dispatch for Mexico’s second, fought on to the end, setting up McGoldrick for a golden chance spurned at the death.
“In terms of our preparation for the main game against Austria I thought it was excellent,” insisted O’Neill who will now welcome reinforcements for Sunday’s Dublin friendly with Uruguay. “Mexico were very good, they were good on the ball as befits a side like that. I thought it was a great workout, a great exercise for us.
“There are some who haven’t played for their club for considerable amount of time. I think that showed greatly, we’ve got the game on Sunday, we’ll see how they come out of that.”
Ireland (3-5-2): Randolph, Keogh, Duffy, Egan; Christie, Horgan, Hourihane, O'Dowda, McClean; Murphy, McGoldrick.
Booked: McClean (25)
Subs: Doyle, Pearce, Long for Egan (64); Boyle, O’Kane for Hourihane (64); Gleeson for Horgan (73); Hoolahan for Murphy (64); Browne for Christie (73).
Mexico (4-3–3): Cota; Salcedo, Moreno, Reyes, Gallardo; Dos Santos, Hernandez, Herrera; Jimenez, Vela, Corona.
Subs: Peralta for Herrera (ht); Layun for Salcedo (ht); Alanis for Moreno (ht); Aquino for Corona (58); Pineda for Dos Santos (58); Marquez for Vela (68).
Referee: Ted Unkel (USA)