A clean sheet but shortcomings exposed again

THE good news first. This was Ireland’s sixth consecutive clean sheet. That concludes the good news.

Now to the tidings of a more depressing nature. Roll up your sleeves, there’s plenty of it to wade through after a performance that was as depressing as the result was damaging.

Ukraine and Poland always seemed a long way away geographically. Add figuratively to that after this but there is no mystery to our continued failures. It is 10 years and a day now since Ireland have beaten a team ranked above them in competitive football.

Deciphering Giovanni Trapattoni’s thoughts on what had just transpired was as fraught with difficulties and confusion as ever due to his continued inability to speak clearly in English and his refusal to communicate through an interpreter.

For what it is worth, here were some of his thoughts.

“In the first half, Slovakia was superior and had more possession but in the second half we had two or three chances through Keane, Cox and Dunne,” said the Italian when asked for his overall assessment.

“But the game was not easy and with this performance and this mentality we have to think about things because it is the first game that we have not scored a goal. Until now we have always scored goals.”

Forget the chances that fell to Robbie Keane, Simon Cox and Richard Dunne as the clock wound down, this was a game that confirmed the limitations of Trapattoni’s rigid adherence to a 4-4-2 that leaves Ireland adrift in midfield.

Ten months ago, Russia came to Lansdowne Road with a five-man midfield that overran the home team’s centre pairing and Slovakia repeated that trick last night with two holding players, a pair of wingers and with Marek Hamsik pulling the strings.

Moscow awaits. Leave their win in Lansdowne Road last October to one side and Russia have been far from impressive in Group B to date and their 1-0 home win over Macedonia yesterday fits snugly into that bracket.

It remains a daunting prospect. With Slovakia at home to Armenia the same evening, Ireland can ill afford to fall further behind either of their eastern European competitors. Something approaching the verve and confidence of Paris two years ago is required.

“We are worse off because they now have 16 points,” said Trapattoni who refused to say whether Shane Long would be fit, “but it is important that we keep this mentality that we showed tonight with our defenders who did not concede a goal.

“We must think it is possible. Why Not? Russia only won today 1-0. It is important that we believe this. Now we pay more attention to the little details than two years ago. I am disappointed because we had three big opportunities to score.”

For Vladimir Weiss, it was a case of job done. Though he spoke bullishly about the three points on Thursday, a draw was always going to be a satisfactory result for the visiting coach who left the press room with a smile and hearty handshakes from some of the travelling media.

“It was a good match. The play was open. The kind you can win and lose. Everything is still open in the group. We must win now against Armenia to have a good hope for the future. I hope for the same result with Ireland and Russia in Moscow as here today.”

If there is a flicker of light to emerge from last night’s events it is that Ireland would finish above Slovakia if the sides were to finish level on points on the basis Trapattoni’s side secured a score draw in Zilina.

“This is not important just now,” said Weiss. “We can see after the last game. We are in the same position as Ireland. We have two matches at home now against Armenia and Russia and one away against Macedonia. Today I am happy with my team.”

Picture: UNDER FIRE: Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni shouts instructions to his charges during the game.

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