Seamus Coleman has firmly placed the blame for Ireland’s failings in Serbia on the players rather than boss Martin O’Neill.
Although Jeff Hendrick fired Ireland into an early lead in Belgrade, that was the prompt for them to retreat as a unit, thereby allowing Serbia enough time and space to dictate proceedings.
That the Irish completed a paltry 94 passes over the entire game said much for the degree of panic that engulfed the team.
In a mirror-image of their last competitive game, the defeat to France at the Euros in June, Serbia took advantage, scoring twice around the hour mark. Only the crossbar denied the Serbians a third before Daryl Murphy popped up at the other end to rescue a point.
Coleman, whose trademark attacking runs were non-existent on the night, recognises the problem and, unlike many commentators, believes the solution must come on the pitch rather than from the sideline.
And the problem must be rectified immediately if topping the table on the road to the 2018 World Cup is deemed realistic.
“The fact we scored and sat back again is something us players need to address,” the Everton full-back admitted in the wake of the 2-2 draw.
“It happened in France and we’ve did it again for this game, so it’s up to us to address that.
“The manager wasn’t telling us to do that — he was saying the opposite — but it just seems to happen with us.
“Conceding the goals gave us a kick up the backside and we attacked the game. From then, we looked good again.”
In their defence, Coleman insisted conditions on the night left Ireland will little option in the tactical sense. Incessant rain throughout the day left the pitch damp, though that didn’t seem to affect the Serbians’ ability to find a team-mate with passes.
“I think at the Euros we changed our game in the last couple of games against Italy and France, where we tried to play football and do it the right way,” he said. “We tried to do it again tonight but it was very difficult on that pitch.
“We were forced to play channel balls up to for Shane Long and Jon Walters; it was a tough game for both of them.
“People think of me as an attacking full-back but games like that, when we don’t have much possession, I can’t needlessly bomb forward. It was a case of staying in position to read Serbia’s diagonal balls.”
Meanwhile, Shane Long felt Ireland were left hard one by an incorrect penalty decision. A challenge by Jon Walters on Filip Kostic was adjudged a foul by the referee, allowing Long’s clubmate Dusan Tadic to make it 2-1.
“A few decisions went Serbia’s way and I didn’t think it was a penalty,” said the Southampton forward.
Asked if he thought Kostic dived, he replied “I thought so. It was good play from him, he cut across Jon and we went down and gave the ref a decision to make.
“It’s not easy for the referee being behind both players so I can understand why he’s given it.”
He added: “This point is something to build on. The win we got at the start of the last campaign in Georgia, when we didn’t deserve it, ended up being a massive three points for us.
“Now, we’ve taken two points off one of our main rivals. We can learn from this because I know we can perform better.”
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