Póg Mo Goal’s no-holds-barred player ratings
Armenia 4 Slovakia 0. That scoreline puts Ireland’s result in Moscow into perspective. Taking into account the reverse result in Dublin and the fact that we were second-best for most of the night, this was a heroic display by Trapattoni’s Ireland. Richard Dunne was a stand-out performer and if Russia fail to beat Slovakia next month, Ireland still have a chance of automatic qualification.
Oh, what might have been. Such was the defensive bravery of the Irish team in the Luzhniki Stadium, from the front down, had we beaten Slovakia last Friday, we could almost book our tickets to Poland and Ukraine. Unfortunately for Ireland, the scoreline in Moscow only serves to focus the spotlight more intensely on Friday night’s failure in Dublin. But Armenia’s spectacular result against Slovakia highlights two surreal factors in Euro 2012 Group B. Armenia are now right back in the hunt. But if Slovakia manage to beat the Russians in Bratislava, Ireland can still secure top spot.
Ireland have now recorded a record seven successive clean sheets and are unbeaten in 13 away games. There is a lot of rumbling right now that Giovanni Trapattoni might lose his job if Ireland fail to qualify for the European Championships. This is paper talk. The FAI do not want to get rid of him. No one can deny that we are harder to beat but the black mark against his name is that Ireland are unable to convert draws into wins. In Moscow, however, we might have converted defeat into a crucial point.
Here’s how the Irish fared in Russia.
Outstanding. His first-half finger-tip save was the type of world-class stop he has made countless times in the past. Packie Bonner’s comment that we expect no less from Shay is proof that he operates at the highest standards. Showed no ill-effects from the back injury and his point-blank stop late on may yet turn out to be the moment on which qualifying hinges.
Did well deputising for John O’Shea. Like Friday, very little originated down Ireland’s right flank and he found it difficult to link up with Damien Duff. At times he was badly exposed but he contributed to another Irish clean sheet.
Superb performance. Man of the match by a country mile. Dunne put his body on the line and made countless vital tackles including a miraculous off-the-line clearance. Yellow carded for a thundering challenge in the second half which rules him out of the Andorra game but crucially he returns for the visit of the goal-happy Armenians.
Gutsy performance considering he was parachuted in at the last minute but at times he was given a severe run-around. Dunne cleaned up most of it but, yet again, O’Dea shows he can deliver on this stage.
A patchy display by Ward who was run ragged at times. His attacking play produced poor end results but he will not have played in many hostile environments like this. It’s hard to see Kilbane doing any better.
Duffer was shackled but his ability to hold on to the ball was crucial to relieving pressure on Ireland. The Russian defence never allowed him to dance into a scoring position and he gave way to Stephen Hunt in the second half.
Did his best to stop wave after wave of Russian attacks but his best largely seemed to involve fouling an opponent. Should have been booked far earlier for clumsy challenges. Offered nothing in attack.
Again, Whelan is far more willing to get on the ball and pass backwards or sideways to maintain possession but never forward it seems. Like Andrews, he did his utmost to press and harry but Russia’s dominance shows that Whelan’s best efforts did little to stop the onslaught. Offered nothing in attack.
Was this the same player as Friday night? It’s amazing what 86 odd minutes of a match and three days training around a flight to Moscow can do for a man’s fitness. He was a real live-wire early on and offered a potent attacking threat on the left flank. He also made some telling defensive interventions. Switched to the right when Hunt was introduced and looked to be Ireland’s only attacking outlet. On Sky Sports, Ray Houghton was livid at some of the tricks he was attempting close to his own goal. We were blessed Russia didn’t punish us.
Another tough night’s going for Doyle but he maintains possession far more than his strike partner. Doyle never stops running or competing in the air. Keane on the other hand never contests a high-ball and the skipper should have given way to Cox. Doyle needed the ball played to his feet and he suffers more than most from the lack of creativity in midfield.
Like Doyle, Robbie is a victim of our defence resorting to long balls to bypass our hopeless creativity in the centre of the park. But time after time, Robbie was out on the wing picking up possession or even taking throw-ins. It is infuriating to see him do this when he is supposed to be the player on the end of any resultant cross. Keane is Trap’s favourite but the LA Galaxy player should have been the one substituted for Cox.
Didn’t have his usual all-action impact but he still managed to produce Ireland’s best crosses of the night. His team-mates were lethargic in their efforts to be on the end of them. His hassling style also gives up free-kicks in dangerous areas and it is something that could cost us if he can’t discipline himself in front of his own goal. Still, his fiery attitude gives us more positives than negatives.
Much better from Cox. He held the ball up well and relieved pressure by linking up the play. He too is not afraid of the physical responsibility. Was unable to fashion an opening but a much improved showing from Friday night.
As Gilesy would say, taken on the game’s merits, it was a heroic defensive display from Ireland to secure what could yet be an invaluable point. And yet, another campaign has come by with Irish fans saying if we could only convert draws to wins we would make things far easier for ourselves. That is the reason why this battling display only focuses the minds back on Friday’s encounter with Slovakia. If we had shown more ambition then, we could be sitting pretty at the top of the table.
Armenia’s rout of the Slovaks points to a long night ahead in the final qualifying game. If the Slovaks manage to turn over the Russians, and they will have to to stand a chance of advancing themselves, Ireland could yet finish as group-winners. Group B is wide open but thanks to Shay Given and Richard Dunne, Ireland’s defence is not. Anything can happen yet.