Differences are subtle under new regime, but trust replacing fear

A stiffer test, a less stellar game, but at least a reassuring steadiness.

Ireland maintained Giovanni Trapattoni’s fine record on the road, but more importantly saw the new regime stay on path. If this somewhat prosaic game didn’t exactly add to the momentum of Friday night, it didn’t take away from it either.

Because, even within all that, there was one particular moment in the first half which seemed to reveal a new mindset in the squad.

About 30 yards from goal, and with Robert Lewandowski on one side of him and just David Forde the other, Marc Wilson opted to turn on the ball and try to play it. It was a risk.

In fact, given Lewandowski’s reputation and how little space there was for error, it was the sort of situation where Trapattoni would have demanded nothing other than a punt up the pitch.

Wilson duly got himself into a bit of trouble and almost gifted the Borussia Dortmund an opportunity, only for Paul Green to arrive and clear.

The players had each other’s backs and it is arguably because their manager is no longer on their backs. Quite simply, Ireland now look like a team who enjoy a touch more trust from the boss as regards their technical ability.

The differences are so far subtle but could yet be significant.

For the moment, admittedly, it is going to be difficult to analyse the progress or specific elements of the Martin O’Neill regime without comparing them to the context from which they’ve come.

This is not to criticise Trapattoni or needlessly contrast everything new with what went before, but there can be no disputing the Italian did not exactly rate the technical quality of his players. He often stated it, and frequently made reference to the absence of the “unpredictability”.

To a degree, Ireland’s entire approach was based on fear, and a lack of trust. Trapattoni was so afraid of his players losing possession when attempting to pass that he basically eschewed that route, even though that unintentionally brought more pressure on the side because the ball kept coming back. The “little details” approach amounted to reducing all of Ireland’s playing to the most minimalist terms.

While O’Neill could never exactly be described as a technocrat, one of his main attributes has always been to get players to maximise their abilities. It has been the core of his career. It may yet be a root of a new departure.

Whereas many squad members spoke in private of how Trapattoni said surprisingly little before games, the likes of Alan Stubbs have talked enthusiastically of O’Neill’s stirring team-talks, in which the manager would outline in detail how players were going to revel in certain situations.

Some of that was apparent in this away display, the type of which may prove crucial.

For his part, Trapattoni has always deserved credit for getting the balances of his performances on the road right. There could no disputing his record away from Dublin, with Ireland avoiding defeat in a competitive away game until his very last match against Austria, and often claiming victory in awkward trips to the likes of Macedonia and Armenia.

Here, they avoided defeat again, with the team also looking so much more secure than their last two games in Poznan.

In that, it must be acknowledged that there were definite facets from Trappatoni’s first four years in charge.

O’Neill opted to use Jon Walters’ physicality on the flank, rather than a more natural wide-man, and Ireland are still prone to the odd punt. There was also an admirable strength and defiance in many of the challenges, with the manner in which they checked the Poles very different with how some of the same players were so easily outmanoeuvred in a green shirt over the past 17 months.

The main difference was in the variety of ways they played the ball, as Wilson illustrated.

Obviously, losing the ball 30 yards from goal is not a habit you want to get accustomed to, but it seemed generally reflective of a greater confidence.

As if to emphasise the point, there was a similar moment shortly into the second half. Penned in at the corner of his own 18-yard box, James McCarthy shaped to lump the ball forward, only to then shift his weight and play it out.

For the most part, the side combined a tight defence with greater composure. It was still all very contained, but not quite so constrained.

Naturally, the raft of substitutions from the hour mark cut away at some of the team’s cohesion. Poland did illustrate their own technical superiority from that point. There was a haphazardness to Ireland that O’Neill will want to eradicate.

So far, at least, he has also eradicated a certain fear from the Irish framework.

It gives further reasons for trust.

The good, the bad and the ugly

THE UGLY

The Republic of Ireland’s ability to back up a 3-0 defeat of Latvia with an equally encouraging 90 minutes against a Polish team of superior technical ability.

Martin O’Neill’s arrival has provided Irish football with a badly needed injection of confidence underlined by Aiden McGeady, Paul Green, Marc Wilson and David Forde’s eye-catching individual displays in Poznan.

The Irish players willingness to maintain possession, remain patient when attempting to create an opening and work hard off the ball is hugely encouraging heading into next year’s European Championship qualifiers.

THE BAD

A sometimes ragged second-half performance saw a tiring Republic of Ireland concede far too much territory and possession to the Poles who grew in confidence once O’Neill’s side began to retreat deeper into their half.

Ireland’s inability to convert any opportunities from dead ball situations was also disappointing, most notably Stephen Kelly’s failure to divert a free header on target from a well-worked corner kick routine. Aiden McGeady has rediscovered his sparkle under Martin O’Neill but the former Celtic winger still infuriates with an inability to provide a telling cross when the opportunity arises.

THE UGLY

John O’Shea’s yellow card after 36 minutes could easily have been a red. The Sunderland defender was barely on the pitch, having replaced an injured Sean St Ledger, when he clearly handled the ball on the halfway line. A sending off at that early juncture would have altered the entire course of the game and Ireland were fortunate Polish protestations fell on deaf ears.

A scrappy game littered with petty fouls and little in the way of attractive football wasn’t helped by O’Neill’s side’s failure to retain possession for much of the second period.


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