The Republic of Ireland didn’t have the greatest day on Saturday. After a disappointing 1-1 draw in Tbilisi, Wales scored a vital 1-0 against Austria.
This pair of results put pressure on the Boys in Green as the mid-week clash with Serbia is now a must-win.
1. A very familiar pattern
Ireland have developed an unfortunate habit of failing to build on leads. The early goal brought excitement but also the inevitability that Ireland would sit back and try to hold on to the lead.
The promising start was cancelled out late in the first half and Ireland essentially handed the Georgians the ball for the entirety of the game with the home side at one stage holding 80% possession.
Although Ireland mounted some late attacks, they rarely threatened and the chances should have been coming thick and fast after the goal.
It is a feature of Ireland’s game that has become a dangerous pattern which would have resulted in a loss against some of the bigger teams in the group.
2. Ireland lack structure
The game plan was to sit back in Georgia’s final third when it should have been to retain the ball. The midfield was disjointed as was the attack. Glenn Whelan failed to hold any meaningful position with Harry Arter failing to pick up any of the scraps during the rare times Georgia were loose in possession.
O’Neill’s decision to play James McClean, Robbie Brady and Aiden McGeady was bizzare with McClean in particular too slow to release the ball and failed to lift his head and pick out a through ball for Jon Walters that would have seen the Burnley man clear on goal.
3. Ireland showed Georgia too much respect
After Ireland’s goal, they defended as if it was the 90th minute for the remainder of the game. Although the Georgians were strong on the ball, they were afforded more than enough space to do whatever they wanted. Aside from the goal, the home side created very few chances which shows that they do lack quality despite being made look like Barcelona by the Irish.
Georgia looked like the team with something to play for despite already being out of qualification. For a team considered to have a lot of ‘heart’, Ireland were bland and offered very little.
The heat could be to blame but this wasn’t an overly impressive Georgia team but rather one that was given space to knock the ball around at their liberty.
4. Lack of leadership
It was hard to pick out the leaders in today’s game with the likes of Jon Walters, Glenn Whelan and Robbie Brady all anonymous.
James McClean was named man-of-the-match but the Derryman was guilty of over committing to challenges that put Ireland in serious danger only for the Georgian’s to be wasteful. McClean did, however, show the drive and determination along with Aiden McGeady in the last quarter but Ireland could make nothing of it, this should have been encouraged when Ireland were ahead.
They panicked on the ball, sat too deep and were shocking in possession, the leaders in previous games went missing and will need to re-emerge come Tuesday night.
5. Ireland have it all to do
The Serbia match now looks like a must win in order to see a more straightforward run in.
Ireland will not want to go to Cardiff needing to beat Gareth Bale’s Wales and must take advantage of a huge home tie. Martin O’Neill said post match that his side will have to put ‘their heart and soul’ into Tuesday’s crunch tie.
But, the reality is that they will need to be set up to win. Aiden McGeady, although wasteful at times, showed the ball control and ability to beat players that very few in the Irish squad have.
Wes Hoolahan was left out despite being instrumental in the winner in Vienna. These are the types of players that need to feature against Austria as clearly demonstrated tonight, an attritional, defensive performance will not herald wins.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena