Ireland suffered one of the darkest nights of their recent football history on Tuesday night, going down 5-1 to Denmark at the Aviva.
The night began with so much hope as a sell-out crowd in Dublin made their voices heard, and Shane Duffy’s fifth-minute goal sent the crowd into overdrive.
However, two quickfire goals for Denmark around the half-hour mark caused Ireland to lose their shape and focus, and from there it became a procession for the visitors with Christian Eriksen running the show. The Tottenham playmaker scored a brilliant hat-trick, assisted in part by some shambolic Irish defending.
As the game wore on, the players looked more and more lost as Martin O’Neill’s formation became something of a shapeless blob – made even worse with substitution. The post-mortem on the campaign (and O’Neill’s future) will come – but for the time being, how did each player perform on what was essentially a large-scale humiliation.
Darren Randolph. Ireland’s best player, which says all that there needs to be said about this match. Made good saves from Kvist and Sisto early on, and was left high and dry by his defence for the goals. One of the few to leave the pitch with any credit.
Cyrus Christie. Looked decent going forward and his runs out wide and into the box caused problems, but defensively he left far too much space for Denmark to play into. The own goal looked bad but he really shouldn’t be blamed too much for it.
Shane Duffy. Duffy’s early goal looked like it might set Ireland on their way to qualification, but was not immune to the malaise that infected almost the entire team. Had a decent chance with a header in the second half but, apart from in the air at times, this wasn’t one of his better nights overall.
Ciaran Clark. A spectator at times, Clark struggled to make any sort of major impact on the game. Allowed Eriksen far too much space (particularly for his second goal) and it was no real surprise to see him sacrificed for Shane Long with around 20 minutes left on the clock.
Stephen Ward. A disaster. Gifted the ball to Yussuf Poulsen for Denmark’s second, and a calamitous mistake allowed Eriksen to ghost in and rifled home the the fourth. Arguably has to shoulder the blame for those two goals, and there is a creeping suspicion that this has simply been one bad game too many for the Burnley man.
David Meyler. The biggest victim in O’Neill’s absurd diamond formation, the returning Meyler wasn’t able to get into the game or assert his authority in the midfield. Could arguably have done more for the first Denmark goal but was still unlucky to be replaced at half time.
Harry Arter. Uncharacteristically sloppy in possession and was overrun at times in the midfield. The occasion seemed to get to Arter more than anyone else on the pitch, and it was no real surprise to see him taken off for the second half.
Jeff Hendrick. A passenger. Offered little (especially by the time the first Danish goal had gone in) and was lucky that it was Meyler and not him taken off at half time. Ireland now have too many midfield options for Hendrick to be still starting based on his form in the Euro 2016 campaign.
Robbie Brady. Poor. This campaign was supposed to be the making of Brady, and yet right now it’s hard to make a case for why he deserves a starting spot in the team. Set pieces were, again, pretty wasteful and disappeared in the second half.
James McClean. Worked tirelessly, as we have come to expect, but the lack of a coherent game plan meant that he had nothing to latch on to. Ultimately, for all of his bluster, he never really posed Denmark any kind of threat. This campaign, however, has underlined his importance to the squad.
Daryl Murphy. Had a decent chance to make it 2-0 at the 20-minute mark after some good work from Christie, but in the end all that Murphy had to show for his performance was perspiration. Gave a decent account of himself in the circumstances afforded to him, but strikers became redundant quickly in this setup.
Aiden McGeady (46 Arter) Brought on at half time to give the side some width and creativity, and while he did that to some extent, his end product simply wasn’t up to scratch.
Wes Hoolahan (46 Meyler) Looked relatively comfortable on the ball but the game was gone by the time he had any sort of major involvement. The argument for his starting is a strong one, but would there really have been a point given the tactics that the manager employs?
Shane Long (71 Clark) Had one decent opening but his shot went over the bar. Over nine months now since Long scored any sort of goal for either club or country.