State of Play: Ireland 2 Macedonia 1

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

WITH about 22 minutes gone of last night’s Euro 2012 qualifying game, the Republic of Ireland looked like they were about to emphatically take control of Group B. Leading 2-0 and dominating against a ragged Macedonia side, Trapattoni’s Ireland were set to post a decisive victory. A defensive unit that included three players making their competitive débuts were not fazed and were in complete control. Damien Duff and Aiden McGeady on the wings were tearing Macedonia apart.

The concession of a soft goal on the stroke of half-time saw all the old doubts and nerves return.

Instead of reasserting authority on the resumption, Ireland allowed their game-plan to unravel. The central midfield pairing did what they have repeatedly done under Trapattoni. Disappeared. Thankfully, our chances of qualifying have not, and the opportunity to top the group is now a distinct possibility. As ever for this Irish outfit, there is room for improvement.

Keirin Westwood

BRRAAPP! Excellent. Good handling, solid, and confident enough to claim crosses. Could do nothing about the goal but made a vital save in the second half to maintain Ireland’s precious lead.

Kevin Foley

A fine competitive début. Ireland were nervy in the second half but to be fair, the defence was still not tested. Foley looked assured. On Sky, co-commentator Ray Houghton blamed Foley for losing his man for the Macedonian goal but it was Dunne who was turned inside out.

Richard Dunne

Was sluggish at times and was stupidly booked putting him out of the Skopje tie. He always marshals the defence and they were solid in the first half and they dealt with the pressure in the second as Ireland’s midfield went AWOL.

Kevin Kilbane

Looks like a left-back in a game like this when Macedonia offered no threat in the first half. He held his own but his passing can be woeful. We know against better quality teams Kilbane can be given the run-around but Zinedine was picked to do a job against Macedonia and he did it.

Aiden McGeady

His best performance in an Irish shirt. Prior to the game Trapattoni’s instructions were for McGeady to shoot at every opportunity. In previous games, this would have meant the opposition’s goalkeeper would have nothing to worry about. Macedonia’s Nuredinoski gifted him his goal after 2 minutes but McGeady was an outstanding threat all night and perhaps merited the man-of-the match award which went to Duff.

Darren Gibson

Acted as a play-maker in the first half when Ireland looked like they might let loose and tear Macedonia apart. Looked to open up the defence and was always lurking around the penalty area for a shooting opportunity. Ireland conceded just before the break and needed to respond in the second half to reassert control of the game. Gibson was unable to initiate that response when the pressure was on.

Glenn Whelan

Even when Ireland were on top, Whelan remained anonymous in an attacking sense. His passing was decent, if unambitious, and he is able to disrupt opponents with his harrying and tackling. But Macedonia were a limited side and when they had possession, time and again Whelan resorted to flying in with tackles, going to ground. He is last-ditch effort every time, when the situation often doesn’t warrant it. When the Irish midfield needed to front up in the second half, Whelan was invisible.

Damien Duff

Brilliant again. For a lad who is not getting any younger, Duff is not losing that sudden burst of speed. With McGeady raiding down the opposite flank, Ireland were a potent threat. Duff got himself in some great scoring positions, narrowly firing past the post with his right-foot when maybe he had time to turn onto his stronger side. There is competition now for places on the Irish wings but Duff will not be the one to lose out.

Kevin Doyle

Doylers goes through the wars every time he takes to a football pitch. He is a combative player in the best sense and, for a small man, is a vital ball winner in the air for Ireland. Even when suffering the injury that saw him withdrawn, he was winning a knock-down in the air that almost allowed Keane to score.

Robbie Keane

No one should doubt Keane as Ireland’s captain. He is the team’s leader and he showed it again last night. His goal was a real poacher’s effort. He has definitely lost his pace, and coming back from injury, he was rusty. He was also at the heart of Ireland’s best move in the first half, threading a superb through-ball for Shane Long. The withdrawal of Jon Walters from the squad meant Ireland had no recognised striker on the bench when Keane was taken off, and he had to be replaced with a midfielder in James McCarthy.

Subs:

Shane Long

Long is like a carbon-copy of Kevin Doyle and he doesn’t shirk the physical responsibility. Despite getting six studs in the face, Long dusted himself down and got on with it. He had chances to score if he had shown a little more composure but, as an even smaller man than Doyle, he is still a target for Ireland in the air.

Keith Fahey

Fahey has the brains to take an extra touch or turn to keep possession and calm things down in the middle of the park, when others will simply lash a misplaced pass. Put simply, he is a better footballer than some of the players Trapattoni has chosen for the central midfield positions. He is not as physically imposing but someone who can take on an opponent must offer a better attacking threat.

James McCarthy

Arrived to a huge ovation finally putting to bed the nonsense that he could declare for Scotland. McCarthy has been playing under-age for Ireland since U17 level. In the pre-match press briefings, Trapattoni had laughed that McCarthy might only come on for two minutes. He was almost true to his word, as Ireland wavered under their own nerves towards the end of the game. Yet McCarthy showed some excellent touches even in that limited time. Arguably Ireland looked more like scoring in the last five minutes after his introduction, than what had passed before in the second half.

Conclusion:

Giovanni Trapattoni has options ahead of the crucial return tie in Skopje but with Dunne ruled out, John O’Shea will take on the role of defensive leader. Normally we’d argue that it is imperative that our players maintain form for their respective clubs but under the manager, that has never been a pre-requisite. Still, the hope is that the likes of Coleman and McCarthy will force the manager’s hand upon the resumption of a qualifying campaign in which Ireland now have everything to play for.

 


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