State of Play: Ireland 0 Slovakia 0

Póg Mo Goal’s no-holds-barred player ratings

There were two main reasons why Ireland didn’t beat Slovakia on Friday night. Firstly, Aiden McGeady’s inept performance handicapped the home side reducing our attacking threat to just one outlet, Damien Duff. And secondly, Trapattoni chose not to replace the Spartak Moscow player until six minutes to go.

In a game we simply had to win, Ireland opened brightly holding the possession and switching the play with purpose. And then it became clear that anything going down the left wing evaporated when McGeady got on the ball. The fact that we still tried to initiate our attacks down that flank meant we soon ran up against a brick wall and Slovakia grew into the game. They began to control the middle third as Whelan and Andrews were overwhelmed but the Irish defence rose admirably to their task, Ward and St Ledger in particular. Slovakia had only a handful of real chances and at the other end Robbie Keane, Simon Cox and Richard Dunne all squandered glorious opportunities to fire Ireland back to the top of the group.

It has since transpired that McGeady felt he was unfit to play which begs the question why he was selected and why on earth Trapattoni chose to leave him on the park?

Here’s how the Irish fared:

Shay Given

Apart from a few wayward kicks, the back injury didn’t appear to impede Shay’s game. He had to scramble across his line for one save and was perfectly placed for the one shot that hit the target. Made one big mistake when he conceded an indirect free-kick for fumbling and gathering in the box but Ireland got away with it. Shay can expect a busier night in Moscow and we need him to be at his best.

John O’Shea

The back four were one of Ireland’s few positives on the night but Sheasy was given a bit of a tough time and his distribution can still be erratic. In the first half, all of Ireland’s attacking play came down the left so he didn’t have much opportunity to link with Duff.

Richard Dunne

Made some vital interventions and he and St Ledger have cemented their partnership but it is soul-destroying to see a Premier League player of his reputation reduced to pumping long balls to bypass his midfield because nothing of any creative merit was forthcoming from that area of the pitch.

Sean St Ledger

A stand-out performance and his body-block in the second-half was heroic stuff for which Irish centre-backs of old were lauded. He made crunching tackles at vital times. The yellow card that rules him out of Tuesday puts Ireland at a major disadvantage.

Stephen Ward

His progression to first choice left-back marks a remarkable rise to prominence. Ward was a constant source of defensive leadership and attacking prowess. He was let down badly by the appalling lack of support by McGeady in front of him but the former Bohs frontman also offers a threat in the opposing penalty area.

Damien Duff

Duffer is all action all the time. He is constantly trying to take on his opponent and he is as frustrated as anyone when it doesn’t come off but at least he persists. He had a glorious chance to score in the first half but he didn’t catch the ball full-on and a deflection allowed Mucha to save. McGeady was a shambles on the left, the two in the middle offered nothing in attack and so the pressure on Duff to deliver was too much for one player. Yet, we need more end result from him on Tuesday.

Keith Andrews

Not for the first time, Andrews was the biggest culprit for surrendering Irish possession. His passing can be atrocious. He doesn’t just miss a team-mate by a yard or two. He was sending balls meant for the frontmen high into the stands and way beyond the end line. That’s not up to the standards required and Slovakia almost put us out of the running completely by overrunning us in midfield.

Glenn Whelan

A vast improvement on recent showings in that Whelan showed for the ball far more and attempted to cajole those around him into action. He has a serious lack of pace though. For that reason he can often arrive late to the opposing player. He seems to pop up in a defensive sense because he is diving in from three yards away. He doesn’t produce enough defence-splitting balls but he soldiers gamely.

Aiden McGeady

It emerged after the game that McGeady felt he was unfit to the play. He hasn’t lined out in almost three months and admits to struggling badly. What then are Ireland doing in training? Presumably, McGeady did enough in Malahide to show the management he was ready. So we can take all those points to qualify the next statement; in a match of this importance, McGeady’s was the worst performance by an Irish player in quite some time. In his international career he has only had one good game that we can recall. On Friday, none of his tricks came off but more than that, despite his struggles with the pace of the game, he showed no urgency whatsoever. Time and again Given would throw to Ward on the left and when he needed McGeady to bomb on, the Scot was literally walking in the centre of the pitch with his back to play. When we needed players to front up, and others did like Ward and St Ledger, McGeady tried to hide. And when we relied on him and Duff to create the chances we needed to win the game, his was a shameful performance.

Robbie Keane

You can’t blame his move to the MLS for his missed header close to the end. There are players in the Phoenix Park who could score that. But equally, strikers will always miss chances and score goals. It was glaring for Robbie because those chances were so few. He didn’t look as sharp on Friday and that may be down to the air-miles put in. As we have seen so often in the past, when he retreats to midfield to pick up the ball, he exposes how poor our central players are at feeding the frontmen but the captain has to be disciplined enough to lead the line and, in a game of such magnitude, misses like his can be the difference between qualification and failure.

Kevin Doyle

The Wolves striker didn’t have his usual kind of impact and he found it difficult against a physical and technically superior Slovakian defence. Yet you can’t help feeling the Wexican international would have finished the chance which fell to Simon Cox late on. Like others around him, Doyle needs a better performance on Tuesday.

Simon Cox

Anonymous. And then he had the chance. And he missed.

Stephen Hunt

Everyone watching could see McGeady was having a nightmare. Trapattoni decided to replace him with Hunt with just six minutes remaining. And even then, Hunt’s crossing had Slovakia panicking. Deserves to start in Moscow.

Conclusion:

Friday night confirms a couple of things. Ireland’s style of play is turning off the sporting public and it is not part of some overall plan by Giovanni Trapattoni to bring us back to football’s high table because it is not working. We surrendered the initiative in our own house. This was a game we had to win. And we blew it.

And yet, recent performances against Uruguay and Italy suggest this limited group of players are capable of better things.

Our only saving grace is there is still enough football left in this group to turn things on their head. Russia still have to face the Slovaks. Win on Tuesday and Ireland’s destiny is back in our own hands. Play like we did on Friday and we could play Russian roulette with no bullets and still manage to shoot ourselves. Except, of course, if the other night is anything to go by, we’d miss.

Moscow must be different.

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