Old problem, different delivery.
The most unfortunate aspect of a double-header in which Giovanni Trapattoni showed an admirable willingness to evolve was that this late setback was, in its own way, all too typical.
It has been rather characteristic of this regime to offset every step forward with another back, and vice versa. The good work of Stockholm is immediately undone. Perhaps even worse, though, the move to more technical football that will be of great benefit to Ireland in the long term brought the short-term mistakes here that may well see the manager revert to type.
It must be said, though, that already happened here and arguably played its part in David Alaba’s crucial late equaliser. Rather than assertively get on the ball as the team had been doing to initially put themselves in the lead, they retreated in the manner equivalent of some of the most frustrating home matches of Trapattoni’s reign.
And, just as the introduction of Wes Hoolahan seemed to signal evolution on Friday in Sweden, it was another late substitution that indicated withdrawal here. Again, instead of going for the game, Trapattoni brought on Paul Green to alter the dynamic of the team. In that, it was almost inevitable that a misplaced pass would bring the equaliser. You could get a feel for that uncomfortable compromise almost immediately.
Although Ireland’s first touch was a nice pass inside that was in stark contrast to the immediate punts we saw against Kazakhstan and even much earlier in Slovakia, it only took another two for John O’Shea to lump the ball forward. That, at the same time, was not what we saw in Stockholm either.
It wasn’t the only difference from Friday. Whereas it was Ireland’s assured first 20 minutes that set the tone for that match, as well as the final score, they were initially rather meek here in the face of impressive Austrian movement.
Similarly, while it was a willingness to take a touch at the box that bred such confidence in Stockholm, here it only brought the away side’s opening goal. Much like for Aston Villa against Manchester City recently, the otherwise decent Ciaran Clark was far too casual in possession and effectively offered Austria the chance to score.
That, of course, is the flip side of trying to play with a little more finesse, but it’s also always going to be the case when a young side is effectively learning on the job.
It did bring another, more unwelcome inversion of the Trapattoni era. After so many performances where we were left lamenting a good start and inevitable retreat, Ireland found themselves behind.
Crucially, though, it didn’t cow the team. Just five minutes after the goal, James McCarthy soloed the ball up and played a lofted pass out to the left flank. It was one of a number of touches sprinkled throughout the game that indicated a greater willingness to play football — not least the flicks of the strutting Shane Long.
In more than a few ways, this was a hybrid approach from a transitional team. Because, although it was Long’s savvy that brought the equalising penalty, it was good old physicality that finally put Ireland ahead and properly bullied the Austrians.
As the game wore in, it was as if they were increasingly struggling to cope with the occasional brutishness of Jon Walters and the directness of James McClean. Similarly, Conor Sammon wasn’t all industry. He offered a few productive touches.
Unfortunately, though, Ireland weren’t progressive enough.
That is always going to be the case for a young team still learning. The hope is that Trapattoni doesn’t take this as a definitive lesson.
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