If there is one thing that Stephen Kenny has brought to this national team its talking points and plenty of them. Yet again tonight after 20 minutes 2-0 up you would think a comfortable night was in store but not with this team and by halftime it was 2-2 and we are left scratching our heads asking ourselves the question how are we here again.
Let’s start with positives, a good team selection with players getting much needed game time like Collins, Omobamidele and Doherty with debuts for Ferguson and Smallbone. Ireland got off to a bright start and moved the ball around quickly around the park and created some openings before some good interplay between Doherty and Samllbone produces a cross for O’Dowda to get on the end of and put Ireland into a well-deserved lead. Soon it was 2-0 all started by a good pass out by Collins to Molumby who drives forward into the space and plays a simple ball to Smallbone who tees up Doherty to cross and Obafemi does well to keep it in play which finds Ferguson who finishes well to score on his debut.
Just as it seems the evening was going to plan a no look around the corner pass from the Atletico Madrid man is intercepted and Latvia break and a wonder strike from 35 yards brings Latvia right back into the game. After this goal you could see the confidence start to leave the Irish team and the self-doubt creep in and a cross that should have been dealt sees two players go for the same ball which isn’t cleared properly and leads to a deflected shot and we go in 2-2 at half-time.
The second half starts off at pedestrian pace with an unsure Ireland trying to gain control of a game where they should be comfortable in. Ferguson and Smallbone have been the shining lights so far in the game even though Ferguson did give away the ball on a couple occasions which in bigger games like the upcoming France could prove costly he will need to be more accurate with his layoffs. Smallbone has the technical ability and game intelligence we need but will his MOM performance tonight be good enough to force his way into the starting 11 for Monday.
Midway into the second half Kenny decides to make a few substitutions and tweak the formation by brining on Mikey Johnston, Ogbene and John Egan. This meant Browne going to right wingback, smallbone dropping in beside Molumby in midfield with Johnston and Ogbene playing a bit more of a withdrawn role either side of Ferguson. Moments later Johnston produces a piece of skill and his shot rebounds back off the post and hits a defender who is too slow to react but not Ogbene who strikes it home and Ireland lead 3-2. From here on in Johnston shows us the potential he has with his quick feet which could cause problems for defences late on in games as it did in this game. Ireland sees out the rest of the game with relative ease for a 3-2 win.
Positives: The performances of Ferguson, Smallbone. Molumby was industrious in midfield and O’Dowda proved he is a live option for left wingback and while Ferguson will get the limelight Obafemi during his time on the pitch proved a handful and worked extremely hard off the ball to help his team.
Negatives: Doherty, while he did work well with Smallbone he looked rusty and on too many occasions he played careless balls around the corner which cost us one goal and against higher opposition may cost us even more. The play out from the back at times was slow and at other times we over played in tight areas which nearly cost us. We really need to improve the way we play out as our wingbacks get caught in possession numerous times which leaves us wide open to counter attacks.
Kenny has some big decisions to make before the France in relation to selections and team shape can he afford to play with two up top. As always please let us know what your thoughts were on the performance and what Kenny should do against France