Kevin Christie gives his 3 positives and 3 negatives following Ireland’s 1-0 loss to France. As always, be sure to let us know what you think in the comments!
1.Holding our own
France’s effortless dissection of the Dutch on Friday evening had some of us fearing the worst ahead of Monday night’s encounter at the Aviva. Another electrifying start for the French and a morale-crushing capitulation seemed not only possible but almost inevitable.
So, it was a pleasant surprise that Ireland, while under the cosh at times and looking very limited as an attacking threat, went in level at half-time having acquitted themselves admirably. Similarly, when the deadlock was broken early in the second half, Stephen Kenny’s men didn’t roll over and they remained resolute.
While it would be a stretch to say that they went toe-to-toe with a genuinely world class team, Ireland definitely held their own against far superior opposition and were unlucky to come away empty-handed in the end as they were in the ascendancy in the closing stages. Definite cause for optimism.
The pitch-side flames prior to kick-off set the scene nicely and, while it wasn’t quite a white-hot atmosphere all night, the Aviva was certainly rocking at times on Monday night.
The fans had been asked to play their part and they duly obliged, showing their appreciation for the team’s efforts and offering a vocal backing. On the few occasions when France did silence the crowd, the Irish fans responded to rallying calls from the likes of Jayson Molumby to up the noise levels in the stands again and the players visibly fed off that energy.
It may be one of football’s most tired clichés but the crowd being like a 12th man still holds true and if the team and the crowd can remain in harmony, then the Aviva could become a very intimidating arena for our opponents to visit.
While the decision to play with Knight and Ogbene as diligently disruptive widemen designed to nullify France’s attacking threat down the flanks worked from a defensive viewpoint, it often left us lacking in a creative sense. How refreshingly it was then to have the dazzlingly direct Mikey Johnston to call upon for the last 15 minutes as Stephen Kenny went in search of an ultimately elusive equaliser.
Not only that, but the returning Adam Idah proved to be a very effective focal point having been introduced as our first substitute not long after the hour mark. Again, while he is one of the elder statesemen in an inexperienced squad, James McClean’s introduction made sense and brought us a width and a set-piece threat that we’d been lacking all evening.
The blooding of so many new young players is starting to pay dividends now and we are developing a strength in depth that has been lacking for years. We also have horses for courses to call upon depending on what the situation requires. With Johnston and Smallbone both making an impressive impact in this international window and the likes of Ryan Manning and Sammie Szmodics aiming to win a place in the squad with their impressive performances in the Championship, the future is starting to look quite bright.
1Attacking set pieces
Although not attempting to play very expansive or modern styles of football, one thing that Stephen Kenny’s predecessors did do well was to maximise the threat offered by Ireland’s attacking set pieces.
Josh Cullen’s negative impact on proceedings unfortunately extended beyond his goal-gifting error, as time and time again his set piece deliveries were found wanting. That would be bad enough at the best of times but in a game against such stellar opposition, clever use of attacking set plays could have afforded Ireland a great opportunity to get on the scoresheet.
While you only have to go back as far as the games against Scotland and Armenia last September to see when Ireland last scored direct from a corner, there is a worrying lack of invention and innovation in our set piece routines and it’s a big concern. Perhaps it was something that fell through the cracks after Anthony Barry’s departure but it is one area that Ireland can really target and aim to improve upon during their next training camps.
Far from being the marauding wingback who helped Nuno Espirito Santo’s impressive Wolves side become a force in the Premier League, Matt Doherty has become a shadow of his former self. While his January move to Atletico Madrid attracted the headlines, his lack of gametime since moving to the Spanish capital has seen him fall further from grace after his summer 2020 transfer to Spurs turned sour.
While he is clearly a favourite of Stephen Kenny’s, Doherty’s performances in this international window are a real concern.
Slow mentally as well as physically in his two appearances this week, it was Will Smallbone’s creativity against Latvia and Jason Knight’s tireless industry against the French that covered a multitude of sins as the former Bohs man was clearly off the pace each time.
His lapse in concentration gifted Latvia a goal on Wednesday and his deployment on the left unbalanced and blunted Ireland against Didier Deschamps’ side on Monday night.
Doubtless there is still a very good player in there somewhere but Doherty should not even be considered for a place in the squad, never mind be named in the starting XI in our June internationals unless he can force himself back into the reckoning for Atletico in the months ahead.
3.Another glorious failure
Fire and ice? Aggressive yet calm? Tenacious yet composed? It was an impressive battle cry from Stephen Kenny in the pre-match press conference but his side gave credence to his words as they acquitted themselves admirably and nearly managed to pull off a memorable result against the odds.
However, while there are a number of positives to take from the performance, the bottom line is that Ireland came away empty-handed yet again and are only a bad result in Greece away from the wheels coming off this campaign before it even gets going.
“Nearly never won the race”, as the old saying goes and a team that has often been synonymous with moral victories and creditable defeats simply needs to find a way to win, or at least not lose, when they play well. Go to Greece in June and win and the hype and positivity will be justified but we’ve seen too many false dawns before to be won over by yet another brave defeat.