The Republic of Ireland’s World Cup dreams hang by a thread after their 1-0 defeat to Serbia on Tuesday night.
The reason their hopes have fleeted out in the last four days is relatively simple: they are just not clinical enough.
Looking back to Saturday night’s meeting with Georgia in Tbilisi, Ireland had a multitude of chances to come away with three points despite a poor performance.
James McClean missed a free header in the first half, Shane Duffy had a header saved that he very well could have scored, a poor touch by McClean saw a glorious opportunity go begging – and Aiden McGeady missed when it mattered most in the dying embers.
Tuesday’s performance was a major improvement on the Georgian encounter as Ireland dominated the game for large spells and one can argue that Aleksandar Kolarov’s goal came against the run of play. But once again, plenty of opportunities were created and not a single one converted.
At one point in the second half the ball was played to McClean, who had options either side of him and space to carry the ball into, but the West Brom winger took the shot first time and ballooned the ball over the bar – an act which typified Ireland’s goalscoring woes as of late.
When Wes Hoolahan is not in the starting XI Ireland lack creativity. This was exemplified when the Norwich man went off as Serbia went down to ten men. Even then Ireland never really looked like scoring. Robbie Brady’s resulting free-kick hit the wall – and it was a sign of the frustrations to come for the Boys in Green.
Daryl Murphy spurned a golden chance – and at that moment the opportunity was gone. Lethargic crosses and flat efforts to hoof the ball into the big men followed – and that never results in goals.
Statistically, the lack of goals from the Irish forwards is alarming.
Jonathan Walters is the only Irish striker to score more than once for Ireland in these World Cup Qualifiers – Shane Long and Daryl Murphy have found the net just once. James McClean’s efforts went a long way to putting Ireland in a good position with his three goals – but his lack of clinical finishing in front of goal was evident in the last two fixtures.
Ireland have scored just nine goals in this entire qualification campaign – nine goals in eight games with the likes of Georgia and Moldova in the group is not good enough for a team that wants to be playing at major international tournaments.
Even at club level – the Irish forwards records do not make for pretty reading.
Shane Long managed just three goals in the Premier League last season – while Walters added four. In fairness to Daryl Murphy, he added five goals in a relatively bit-part role for Newcastle last campaign. But the Waterford man is in the closing stages of his career and Ireland need new faces to come up with the goals.
There is no denying that we will never replace a goalscorer like Robbie Keane – but if Ireland want to be a feared team then they need to hit the net. After watching the chances spurned in the last four days, Sean Maguire will feel even more hard done by being left out of the squad.
Ireland hit eleven shots on target in the last two games, scoring just once. If that doesn’t speak for itself, then what does?
It is time for Martin O’Neill’s men to start finding the net – or the recent wave of enthusiasm surrounding the national team following the Euros won’t be long getting buried.
The game against Wales at the end of the group is now one which bears incredible importance for the future of Irish international football – and performances in front of goal like those of recent times won’t scare Chris Coleman’s side at all.
Hoofing balls up to the big man and having him play trampoline pays no dividends in the modern game, proven by the one point taken from two crucial fixtures.
Jordan Norris, Pundit Arena.