As Ireland rescued a pint at home against Austria, we examine five key talking points as Ireland’s World Cup dream stays firmly on track.
A negative selection for what should have been a positive approach
Martin O’Neill hinted during the week that Ireland would approach this game looking for a win. Before a ball had been kicked, the team screamed out negativity. In a home game with Ireland looking to kick on with momentum, Wes Hoolahan should have been called upon. Instead, Glenn Whelan was again selected with Jeff Hendrick selected in the number 10 role ahead of Hoolahan.
The fear of David Alaba was evident in the selection but the Bayern Munich man was anonymous at times despite some strong runs. Ireland were scrappy throughout and the positivity in the last quarter should have been encouraged from the start.
Glenn Whelan’s selection has to be strongly considered
Glenn Whelan serves a purpose for Ireland. He is a holding midfielder who can restrict space and break up play but offers virtually very little going forward. Jeff Hendrick and Harry Arter can both defend and attack, essentially doing what Whelan does but with many more added bonuses. Whelan’s leadership and experience seem to be keeping him in the squad but it is becoming completely unambitious to continue selecting him.
Ireland defeated Germany, Italy and Austria (after his injury in Vienna) without Whelan on the pitch and Martin O’Neill must see that we offer more going forward without him. Whelan can inhibit attacking momentum and there are players who can do his role and offer more. He will no doubt still be important to the squad but should be far from guaranteed the spot he has occupied for nearly a decade.
Austria shown too much respect
Austria were fluid today and enjoyed a far better first half than Ireland. However, when Ireland attacked they looked disinterested. Their goal came from a lapse in concentration and they were poor with their finishing. Talisman Alaba blew hot and cold and disappeared at times. Ireland sat back too often and made Austria look better than they were.
When the Irish went over the top, although unconventional, Austria struggled. This was typified by Ireland’s goal by Jon Walters. Marcel Koller’s men could be out of it now and certainly don’t look like a team worthy of a World Cup place. They were missing several players and were allowed to get comfortable early on, something Ireland cannot afford Serbia when they meet in what could be the group decider.
Ireland come up with answers again
Under Martin O’Neill, Ireland always seem to come up with answers when the challenge is put to them. In the Euro 2016 qualifiers, they secured the needed last minute equalisers against Poland and Germany as well as the much-needed winner in the home game against the Germans. They also secured the late equaliser in Belgrade as well as snatching the win in the tight affair against Georgia.
Although 1-0 down for most of the game, Ireland always looked like they would eventually break down the Austrians late on and did so with Jon Walters’ spectacular strike. It bodes well for the belief in the team who never give up under O’Neill and really should have won the game only to have a late goal ruled out.
Ireland still in a great position
Staying unbeaten will be key for O’Neill’s men, although it will be wins that determine the automatic qualification spot; a loss would have thrown the group wide open with Austria and Wales potentially mounting late pushes. Just like Ireland during Euro 2016 qualification, it would be foolish to rule any team out at this stage. Ireland were essentially out of the running this time two years ago but results elsewhere aided their spectacular comeback.
It will be disappointing not to secure a home win against the underwhelming Austrians but Walters’ equaliser could be a big goal at the end of the campaign. Keeping the teams around them at bay will be the first priority for the Boys in Green with the home clash against Serbia the opportunity to snatch first if all goes to plan. Ireland will take confidence in coming back and ending strongly against Austria and must keep this momentum going for the rest of the campaign.
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena
On this week’s edition of the Mixer Irish Football podcast, we spoke to former Irish international Joe Gamble as well as looking ahead to Martin O’Neill’s side’s clash against Austria this weekend.