Relief the main emotion as conservative tactics nearly backfire

ASK your average football fan to pinpoint the day Brian Kerr lost his grip on the Ireland job and more than a few would point to the loss of a two-goal lead to Israel at Lansdowne Road in June of 2005.

The home side was dominant for the first 25 minutes of that World Cup qualifier and were full value for their 2-0 lead courtesy of Ian Harte and Robbie Keane. Their mistake was to switch into neutral after the second.

Any of this beginning to sound familiar? It’s worth lingering on the lessons of Kerr’s tenure for just a moment here. When it came to an end in October of ’05 the post-mortem contained damning accusations of conservatism that were impossible to deny. On Saturday we were again witness to an Irish team lording it over an ordinary side on home turf only to pull up and allow the opposition back into the contest. If Keiren Westwood hadn’t made that second-half save the scoreline may have even been the same. It should never have come to that.

“It was a win in the end, to get three points,” said Glenn Whelan, “but we didn’t make things easy for ourselves going into a 2-0 lead and then conceding that goal just before half-time. That knocked us back a little bit. Maybe we got a little bit too comfortable. But, like I said, the goal just before half-time obviously gives us a little bit of a kick up the back side. We then came out second-half and they were on top.”

If there was one moment that summed up Ireland’s unambitious we-hold-what-we-have approach it was one sandwiched by the second goal and Macedonia’s reply just before half-time. Shane Long took possession high up the pitch surrounded by three Macedonians but, when he turned for support, the nearest free Irish player was Whelan who watched events unfold from the centre circle standing stock still. It was a move that was crying out for the oxygen of support from the middle of the park but Long was isolated. This from a side that was leading 2-0 at home against a visiting team that, until then, looked like one of the worst sides to ever visit Dublin. The question is whether this is a caution inherent in the Irish side or one instilled by Trap.

“To be fair, we all came in a bit disappointed and it took a few minutes to realise we were still 2-1 up and it was our game to lose,” said Long.

“So (the manager) just told us to put that behind us and that we were doing well, that it was just one little lapse and it cost us. Just more or less told us not to switch off again and see the game out and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”

This being a results business, Trapattoni is entitled to wave away any reservations about style, tactics or approach by bigging up the three points earned but four teams are being squeezed into the neck of the bottle that is Group B and Ireland could regret their failure to put Macedonia to the sword.

“You have to give Macedonia credit,” said Aiden McGeady. “They are a decent team. I don’t think people knew too much about them before they came here.

“If it wasn’t for Westie pulling off a good save they would have equalised. We’ve a lot to thank him for.”

They certainly do but the reality is that Macedonia departed Dublin feeling somewhat hard done-by ahead of the return leg in June in Skopje.

For that, Ireland have no-one to blame but themselves.


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