Plenty of toil but Ireland’s lack of quality exposed

This was a night of tension, drama, and intrigue.

Plenty of toil but Ireland’s lack of quality exposed

This was a night of tension, drama, and intrigue.

And then the match started — slipping seamlessly into a pattern of Switzerland probing and passing, while Ireland hurriedly gave away possession in that familiar, perpetually panicked state we have all become so used to.

That nerviness led to the home side scoring a sublime 16th-minute goal, one which ultimately proved enough to secure all three points; Shane Duffy’s injury-time own goal proving a cruel way to finish his a gruelling shift.

Ireland still have another chance at automatic qualification should they beat Denmark in Dublin in the final Group D meeting, but such a fixture holds bitter, troubled memories.

The arrival of Aaron Connolly on the scene is a welcome fillip, the teenager becoming the youngest Ireland player to start a competitive international since Robbie Keane in November 1999. There was no fairytale goal before he was subbed in the 69th minute though, just the grim reality of life as a quickfire Irish forward under the current regime: run, run, and run some more.

Darren Randolph saves a penalty from Ricardo Rodríguez of Switzerland. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Darren Randolph saves a penalty from Ricardo Rodríguez of Switzerland. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

As Ireland toiled, switching from the 3-5-2 formation they had started with, before changing to 4-1-4-1 before the half-hour mark and then to a 4-3-3/4-5-1, Connolly was a picture of frustration, continually throwing his arms in the air as passes failed to find their destination.

Add into the mix a few hefty challenges and it was a severely testing night for the Galway native. His confidence wasn’t diminished, however, proven by his attempt at an overhead kick from Seamus Coleman’s cross early into the second half.

He swung at fresh air, appealing for a penalty, but they fell on deaf ears.

“Be not afraid” was the message on one of the dozens of tricolours hanging behind the goal where Haris Sererovic arrowed his left-foot shot through the legs of Shane Duffy and beyond Darren Randolph in the bottom corner.

Jeff Hendrick, right, and James McClean react after Ireland's loss to Switzerland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jeff Hendrick, right, and James McClean react after Ireland's loss to Switzerland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The question here was whether Ireland were capable of producing an inspired performance just three days after the mediocre fare served up away to Georgia in Tbilisi.

The answer was no — even if they did rally briefly in the second period, albeit without creating a clear-cut opportunity. Coleman’s sending off and Randolph’s subsequent penalty save in the last quarter of an hour added excitement, it’s just a shame it came at the wrong end.

Heavy rain throughout the day leading up to kick-off meant a pitch — one that was only recently relayed because of a fungus infection and was most kindly described as brutal, even while baked in Swiss sunshine 24 hours previously — disintegrated into a quagmire in certain key areas.

The goalmouth at the end in which the hosts scored in the first half was in a sorry state, as was the right flank where both dugouts watched on.

For Mick McCarthy, the resulting sloppy, rhythmless encounter would have been manna from heaven. For Swiss boss Vladimir Petković, who described this Group D clash as a cup final, would have been tearing his hair out. Until Seferovic struck, that is.

Polish referee Szymon Marciniak deemed the Stade de Geneva surface playable two hours before kick-off.

Acerbic commentators might say it aided rather than hindered Ireland’s cause. There were some neat moments of interplay and passing however, James Collins releasing a tame shot on the stroke of half time after good work down the right created the chance.

It was an indication that Switzerland could be troubled — but Ireland just didn’t possess enough quality to carve them open.

This was never going to be a night when Ireland suddenly blossomed into a free-flowing, cohesive, tika-taka unit. It was always going to be about those trusty traits of grit, determination, and perseverance.

In these conditions, that’s exactly what was called for,although quality of touch and control was a necessity. That is where Ireland struggled, however. They looked capable of causing problems at times, but lacked that decisive edge in the final third.

Connolly was thrust into a starting berth alongside James Collins as McCarthy switched to a 3-5-2 formation that sought to allow the 19-year-old cause as much damage as possible with teammates in close proximity.

The Ireland manager was adamant he didn’t want the Brighton frontman to find himself isolated, which is why Luton Town’s battering ram was always close by.

Such was the confusing nature of a poor opening 45 minutes, there was, unsurprisingly, little opportunity for the two forwards to work up any sort of understanding.

Switzerland's Haris Seferovic celebrates after scoring the first goal. Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP
Switzerland's Haris Seferovic celebrates after scoring the first goal. Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP

Matt Doherty was dropped to the bench along with Callum Robinson and Conor Hourihane, but the changes didn’t stop there as Ireland tinkered with formations.

None of them really clicked though, and once the Swiss got themselves in front just after the quarter-hour mark, this was never going to be that grand celebration of qualification for next summer’s European Championships we hoped it would be.

McCarthy lamented beforehand that he didn’t feel any great sense of belief from those in the pre-match press conference that Ireland would win. This 90 minutes showed why.

You know what you will get with Ireland, and while there is little that inspires a great deal of excitement, they possess plenty of gumption.

The problem is, that only gets you so far. And it might not even be enough to reach Dublin in 2020. This was a night of tension, drama, and intrigue.

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