Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland picked up a point away to Georgia on Saturday night – a result some of the country’s more pessimistic fans may have settled for before kick-off.
Having watched the match, even the most optimistic supporters of the Boys in Green will be delighted with the point.
The performance has got the football community in Ireland worried. Having nicked the opening goal in the fourth minute, when centre-halves Shane Duffy and Ciaran Clark went forward to devastating effect, Ireland retreated into their shell.
It was a frustrating but all too predictable reaction.
From that point on Georgia owned the ball, Ireland struggled to halt the carousel of passing revolving around them. There were a number of obvious issues on the pitch that O’Neill failed to address from the touchline.
1. It’s made round to go round
Ireland were passed off the park by a team 83 places below them in the FIFA world rankings. In the first half, each player was equally guilty but the issue was highlighted when the full backs were in possession.
Both Cyrus Christie and Stephen Ward were guilty of pumping the ball long. But with none of the three central midfielders showing for the ball with any conviction they can’t take all the blame.
It happened with such regularity in the first half and at the beginning of the second that you have to assume they were under instruction to try hit Shane Long and Jon Walters as soon as possible.
2. Shane Long needs to play regular football to be effective
Ireland’s hero against Germany in the European qualifiers struggled badly in Tbilisi. He looked leggy from the start and his touch was off. When Long has a run of games under his belt he can be a potent weapon for O’Neill.
His hard running drags opposition defences out of position and he can occupy both centre-halves to create space for his teammates.
Against Georgia, he did none of this and was so isolated that he even had to knock the ball down for himself at one stage. Perhaps the 90 minutes will stand to him come Tuesday, but O’Neill cannot afford another performance so blunt.
3. Ireland’s strength is not in their depth
From the moment Duffy put Ireland ahead our defence dropped to sit on our 18-yard line.
The midfield sat in 10 yards ahead of them and Long and Walters were left to feed off the scraps launched up the pitch. This has been a recurring theme under O’Neill when we go ahead.
It seems that every time the initiative is with us we surrender it all too willingly, simply by conceding too much ground to their opponents. O’Neill’s starting defensive line-up is still in transition since John O’Shea’s retirement, it makes no sense for him to put it under so much pressure for such long periods of the game.
4. Robbie Brady is wasted in a midfield that doesn’t pass the ball
Brady became a vital player for Ireland in the previous campaign. His goal on that foggy night in Bosnia helped get us to the Euros and his performances in France earned him a move back to the Premier League.
He has been effective centrally as part of a diamond in the past but his main strength is on the ball. Tucking in trying to stop the opposition playing is not his game.
If O’Neill’s plan is to punt it long Brady would be more effective in one of the wide positions. At least he could isolate the full back and deliver the ball from there.
These are the most obvious problems from the game in Georgia, can O’Neill address them before Tuesday’s crunch game against a buoyant Serbia.
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena