A 0-0 draw against Denmark and a 0-1 defeat against Wales has left Ireland bottom of their Nations League group with one point after three games.
These two results mean Ireland will be almost certainly be relegated from League B and will face a more difficult group for the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Pundit Arena outline five talking points from Ireland’s two disappointing results:
- Irish results over past year simply not good enough
After Ireland’s failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup, this was always going to be a transitional period for Martin O’Neill’s side. However, it has been disastrous.
Only one win, a friendly against the USA has seen Ireland hit an extremely difficult patch. It is not Ireland’s best ever cohort but many of the squad available to O’Neill for the last year were involved for victories against the likes of Bosnia, Italy, Germany, Uruguay, Austria and Wales.
O’Neill’s strange selections, unwillingness to play a progressive style and refusal to look outside the box has seen the Irish team and fans suffer. The results have been unacceptable and although Ireland are limited, there are other teams with weaker player pools who still make the most of limited resources.
Player bust-ups, the defection of some promising granny rule prospects and a real lack of progression under O’Neill begs the question if he and his management team have taken Ireland as far as they can.
Ireland do have talent within the squad that another manager could utilise in an alternative way and given the unacceptable results of the past year, issues behind the scenes and bizarre tactics and selections, O’Neill’s days could be limited.
Ireland show when they are under pressure that they can string passes together, attack and create chances but it should not come to desperation times for the boys in green to demonstrate these traits.
- Bizarre selections put Ireland at an immediate disadvantage
For all his experience, it seems strange how farfetched some of Martin O’Neill’s selections were over the two games. His 3-5-2 formation should accommodate Ireland’s available players but instead, unusual positional selections were evident.
The most namely was the selection of Cyrus Christie in central midfield. Although Christie did himself proud in a completely parallel role to what he is used to, he did look awkward and out of place.
On the bench for both games were Conor Hourihane and Alan Browne, two men who have flanked a midfield three, yet both remained unused. Ireland showed against Wales that they can string passes together but many will feel that they were not given the best chance to do this with a right back playing in such an unfamiliar role.
Although subtle positional issues, Harry Arter who thrives on the left of a three and Kevin Long who is most comfortable in a back four also added to the lack of structure. Arter did do well but long was put under pressure as a right footer on the left of a back three, Derrick Williams has played in that position for both Blackburn and Bristol City.
For Ireland to play with any fluidity and be given the best chance, O’Neill needs to select players in their natural positions. These strange selections and the run of results Ireland have endured are no coincidence and make what is considered a limited Ireland even more limited.
- Callum Robinson looks a real talent
For all the negativity over the past year, Ireland have managed to unearth some promising young players who look comfortable at international level.
Callum O’Dowda has become a fan favourite with his mazy runs and has added some excitement that Irish fans have missed. However, the man of the week’s two ties was arguably Preston’s Callum Robinson.
The granny rule import looks assured in possession, capable of hanging onto the ball and fearless in taking on players. In addition to his controlled dribbling, Robinson also showed his ability to thread through lovely passes and also chase back to win the ball.
He is Ireland’s in-form goalscorer at present and looked a cut above the rest of Ireland’s attackers. The former Aston Villa man could serve Ireland best equally on the right flank, as a deep-lying striker or as a centre-forward and has injected both the creative attributes and finishing ability Ireland crave.
- Continued selection of certain players need to be strongly considered
Martin O’Neill is a man of loyalty but sometimes this can be detrimental to the progression of this Irish side. Although he looked sharper against the Welsh, Jeff Hendrick’s inconstancies have been continually rewarded by the Derryman.
As one of Ireland’s only Premier League midfielders, O’Neill may feel obliged to select him. However, the Burnley man has to improve his performances or risk being dropped. He looks laboured and uncomfortable in midfield, and his failure to deliver on set pieces in the Wales game infuriated Irish fans.
For all his passion and popularity, James McClean’s starting berth may also need to be looked at. The Stoke man has come up with important goals in the last two years as well as some crunching tackles but his overall attacking performances have looked laboured and uncomfortable. McClean has been at his most dangerous off the bench and could be better served lifting Ireland when the opposition are tired rather than having an expectation of 90 minutes of energy which tends to see his crosses and passing suffer.
- Context of the two games is important
The Irish media have been guilty of calling Armageddon for the past year in regards to the Irish team.
Yes, it is a rough patch but it is important to gain context. After back to back competitive hammerings, Ireland pulled off draws against Poland and Denmark which many ‘minnows’ would be incapable of. This was made even more impressive given the fact that O’Neill deployed such unorthodox selections.
It is also worth noting that the Irish were missing arguably their four best players. Captain Seamus Coleman, Robbie Brady and James McCarthy were all sidelined through injury. Although his international future is unclear, Declan Rice too was unavailable through his own choice. Although Rice may not be an option as the months transpire, the three aforementioned players do add that bit of quality that makes a huge difference.
Although the Welsh game ended in defeat, Ireland did show intent throughout and some of those players could have made a difference. However, these factors do not excuse some of the decisions made off the pitch regarding Ireland’s approaches to the games.