Ireland’s defence shows the way forward

Republic of Ireland 1 Switzerland 0: Amidst the official Good Friday drought, the Aviva Stadium might have seemed an inviting watering hole for some in the attendance of 35,450 but, if not exactly intoxicating, the friendly fare on the pitch certainly provided a lively enough distraction and even some all too feisty exchanges as Ireland edged past Switzerland thanks to a Ciaran Clark goal after just two minutes of the game.

Ireland’s defence shows the way forward

It was also a good night for Clark’s defensive partner Shane Duffy, gaining his first cap since the close-season tour of America in 2014, who combined a decisive display at the back with an assist for Ireland’s opening goal.

But it was not a game in which, for different reasons, the veteran Aiden McGeady and the debutant Alan Judge will have made the impression they hoped for as the European Championship finals loom ever closer.

However, it was a truly miserable night for Kevin Doyle who was forced off after little more than 20 minutes with a horrific gash on his leg which required a hospital visit for treatment and will require surgery, the player confirmed last night.

For his replacement, Daryl Murphy, meanwhile, it was a 20th outing for Ireland and, by the time he in turn had made way for Wes Hoolahan, another night in the green shirt had passed without a breakthrough goal for the Ipswich man.

The absence through injury of Jon Walters, Robbie Keane and Glenn Whelan — with John O’Shea also not making the bench — was hardly the crushing blow for Martin O’Neill it would have been on a different night in Dublin, since they are four veterans about whom he was unlikely to learn anything startlingly new over the course of a March friendly, even if it might have been desirable to have had one or two of them available to provide senior assistance for less experienced hands.

More of a setback were the injuries which ruled out Anthony Pilkington and Harry Arter, the former because his good form at Cardiff City merited a fresh view for a player whose Irish career has been repeatedly interrupted by injury, while the latter, outstanding for Bournemouth, is perhaps the most highly rated of the squad’s fringe players, and the Irish management badly wanted to see him get a proper Euros road test against the Swiss last night and the Slovaks on Tuesday.

But, in another way, such absentees served to enhance rather than restrict the opportunity for the manager to mix and match and, with his unfamiliar starting line-up O’Neill duly delivered, handing an international debut to Alan Judge and a second cap to Shane Duffy, while giving veterans Kevin Doyle and Aiden McGeady some much needed game-time in the new green shirt.

Sadly for Doyle, his night ended all too prematurely when he shipped a heavy tackle and while, brave-hearted as ever, he initially attempted to chase the loose ball, just one or two strides later he was frantically signalling — with pain etched on his face — that his game was up. The striker then required lengthy treatment on the pitch before being stretchered off, to sympathetic applause.

Ireland began with a 4-4-2 formation, former Cork City men Doyle and Shane Long briefly reunited up front, with Judge and McGeady in the wide positions and David Meyler and Stephen Quinn in the middle.

But, barely two minutes in, it was the new-look Irish central defence which showed the way to goal, Duffy doing really well to win a Robbie Brady corner in the air before Ciaran Clark made the most of lax Swiss defending to provide a goal-poacher’s finishing touch, by heading past keeper Yann Sommer from close range.

Stephen Quinn was bundled off the ball to set up the visitors for a first effort on the Irish goal just short of 10 minutes but Darren Randolph was able to watch the shot float harmlessly over the top, before Judge was robbed further up the pitch and it required some impressive tracking back and a full-stretch intervention by Duffy to bring the counter-attack to a halt.

McGeady and Judge switched flanks after 15 minutes and again before the end of the half but, wherever he roamed, the Sheffield Wednesday man struggled to make any kind of impact on proceedings, while the new cap would surely have been better deployed in the central role he plays to such good effect for Brentford.

Nor was the normally inventive Quinn having a productive evening in midfield as he was repeatedly closed down by white shirts, while Meyler simply had his hands full keeping the Swiss from repeatedly playing through the heart of the Irish team.

But in an open, if often disjointed and frequently error-strewn affair, with half-chances emerging at either end, it was Ireland — largely against the run of play, it must be said — who almost doubled their advantage in the 37th minute, skipper Seamus Coleman displaying his trickery on the right before clipping in a lovely cross which Long met with a full-blooded header, only to see his effort crash back down off the crossbar.

With the passing of the hour mark, Martin O’Neill decided it was time to ring the changes across the middle of the park, James McCarthy and Eunan O’Kane replacing Quinn and Meyler, while Aberdeen winger Jonny Hayes — like O’Kane, getting his first cap — came on for McGeady.

The Swiss too duly rotated their troops but couldn’t alter the figures on the scoreboard — and nor could O’Kane who drove narrowly wide after seizing on a sloppy opposition pass — as Ireland, now driven forward by the typically all-action James McClean, retained their narrow lead to the end to extend their unbeaten home run to 10 games.

Republic of Ireland Substitutions:

Daryl Murphy for Kevin Doyle (27) Eunan O’Kane for David Meyler (61), Jonny Hayes for Aiden McGeady (61), James McCarthy for Stephen Quinn (61) Wes Hoolahan for Daryl Murphy (78) James McClean for Shane Long (83)

SWITZERLAND:

Sommer; Lang (Widmer 82), Schar, Klose, Rodriguez (Moubandje 79); Dzemaili (Tarashaj 72), Xhaka, Behrami (Fernandes 72); Mehmedi (Kasami 72), Seferovic (Steffan 62), Embolo.

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