Póg Mo Goal’s no-holds-barred player ratings
MANY people predicted Ireland would only be good enough to claim a point in Skopje last night. Missing some key players, with a makeshift defence and a lack of creativity in midfield, it was a game with many pitfalls to scupper our qualification bid. Instead, despite shortcomings in our ability to dictate the game and maintain possession, the Irish came away with a massive result. Robbie Keane made history while ensuring the Republic are in with a shot of making some more.
Shay is a god. Time and again he literally saves our qualification hopes. His stop in the first half from Pandev was a vital intervention. Had Macedonia equalised at that point, all the confidence built up in recent weeks could have evaporated from the Irish side. We may have deserved to win but Shay was tested far more than his opposite number. This Irish team is always going to give up chances no matter who we play. We should thank our lucky stars that we genuinely have one of the best keepers in the business…. Plus Joe Hart cocked up for England.
The back-four was all over the place at times and Kelly was badly caught out of position for Pandev’s first half chance. He’s not getting his game at his club. He spent the last week playing centre-half and he started as right-back last night. We can hardly expect a flawless display in those circumstances.
Not a great day at the office for Sheasy. Himself and O’Dea were crossing their wires too many times last night. O’Shea could have conceded a penalty with a clumsy challenge on Pandev in the first half but he was at fault when the referee did point to the spot after the United man connected with a ball, but not the big leather one. His kick on Pandev resulted in yet another spot-kick in the Macedonian capital. He, and Ireland, were let off the hook with the subsequent miss.
O’Dea does a lot of things right in the Irish shirt despite a difficult time at club level. He needs a steady influence alongside him. Unfortunately his defensive partner O’Shea was having a nervy night and O’Dea mirrored this uncertainty with some rash challenges and sloppy positional play. But the Irish defence shored up a lot in the second half and, apart from some shots from distance, O’Dea was untroubled.
Skilbane did his job effectively again last night but Aiden McGeady is not going to offer him much shield further up the wing. Very little Macedonian threat came from Kilbane’s side and that’s all you can ask of him.
Hunty is perfect for away games like this. He will not offer an inch to his opponent and it’s vital that Ireland feed off that tempo in difficult trips like this. His distribution can be erratic and he never really got to the by-line to send in teasing crosses but his work-rate and tracking back is exemplary. You just feel that Seamus Coleman would do all that but offer a threat going forward too.
Andrews looks to get on the ball only marginally more than the other players who have lined out in the central position. Ireland’s ball retention was pretty shocking last night and Macedonia dominated possession for long spells of the second half. Andrew’s only real weapon is to go to ground which is fine if he scrambles the ball back but he offered nothing in attack last night.
Whelan gets a lot of criticism here but it is pretty remarkable how anonymous he can be. Ireland had four shots on target last night. Robbie’s two goals, Cox’s disallowed effort and a free that was spilled by the goalkeeper. Absolutely nothing came from central midfield. If Whelan and Andrews don’t offer anything going forward then we depend on them to win the ball back from the opposition. Macedonia dictated the game in the second half so you’d have to say Whelan and Andrews failed at that too.
McGeady didn’t hit the heights of the home-leg but Macedonia had learned their lesson. They double-teamed him at every opportunity and were robust in their treatment of the winger. McGeady’s footwork can be sublime and he showed glimpses of it last night. He was largely policed out of the game but we need him on form against Slovakia.
He had a perfectly good goal disallowed and got booked for his trouble. It was a frustrating night for the rookie but he was lively and gaining experience in a cagey away game like this is vital in his development. The jury is out on whether Cox can offer more than others who have come in and out of the Irish strike team like Caleb Folan.
A landmark game for Keano. It would be nice if the criticism of Robbie died down a little now. He has flaws in his game of course but Keane was once the media poster boy for the pampered Irish star who didn’t deliver. His record makes a mockery of that and he set another one last night overtaking the goalscoring feats of an icon of the game in Bobby Charlton.
You could have brought on Messi (or McShane) for Ireland last night but if you don’t give him the ball there’s not much point. We were seeing none of the possession by the time Long entered the fray. RTE’s Tony O’Donoghue told us the frontman might benefit because Ireland’s tactic had been reduced to long ball by that stage. Is that not an indictment of our lack of creativity that we bring on a striker who is small in stature but in a rich vein of form but all we can do is pump balls out from our defence?
In the context of the group, this was a massive win for Ireland. Many feared we would only be good enough for a draw in Macedonia and in reality we would have been back to third in the group and cut adrift from Slovakia and Russia. Instead, a team missing Richard Dunne, Kevin Doyle, and Damien Duff secured a crucial victory that keeps us right in the mix at the top of the table.
No one will care that we didn’t play particularly well in Skopje. There are four games remaining with the Slovaks to come to Dublin. If we can beat them we will put them out of the race and then all eyes will be on Moscow where no one will give a damn either if we don’t play well but come away with a positive result.
Trapattoni has Ireland within striking distance and Robbie Keane is leading our charge.