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Tuesday 24 October 2017

final 20 minutes shows us way

O'Neill must heed the lessons from Germany as team played better with right men on the pitch

MARTIN O'Neill can take the last twenty minutes in the Veltins Arena last night and bank it. That's the way forward for Ireland.

Up to that point and despite some dogged and fantastically committed defending from, I have to admit I was disappointed with the way Ireland played.

I know there were all sort of mitigating factors. Séamus Coleman wasn't on the pitch. Neither was James McCarthy and O'Neill's defensive resources were stretched almost beyond breaking point.

CORRECT POSITION

But in that final twenty minutes, O'Neill returned players to their correct position and most important of all, gave Wes Hoolahan the chance to show us what we had been missing all night.

I know it may sound a bit carping to be criticising a manager that comes away from the home of the world champions with a point.

But I would simply point out the obvious again. Ireland played better in the final twenty minutes when Darron Gibson and Jeff Hendrick were on the pitch and Glenn Whelan wasn't.

Whelan's mindset, or the one he is given by his manager, means that he almost always passes back or sideways even when there might be opportunities in front of him.

So in the very occasional moments when Ireland had the ball during the first hour, the chance that Ireland might break forward quickly and hit Germany on the counter was snuffed out by a negative pass almost all the time.

I couldn't really figure out what Aiden McGeady was doing wandering around in midfield but I do know that when he returned to the right wing, when Hendrick and Gibson brought fresh legs and fresh ideas and when Hoolahan got on the ball, Ireland looked like a different team.

My argument would simply be this. If Ireland can do what they did to Germany in the final throes of the game, why not do the same from the first whistle?

Perhaps that is a mite simplistic and I do realise that the Germany that Ireland played in the first half, and a good chunk of the second, was very different from the version which finished the match.

They visibly relaxed when they got the goal and dropped deeper and deeper until they were almost inviting Ireland on. It was lazy and must be a source of great concern for Jogi Loew.

Germany have been dragged meekly back to the pack in this group and while I still expect them to qualify, they are making hard work of it.

PRINCIPLES

But I still think that O'Neill should have followed first principles. Play your best players in their positions and encourage them get on the ball and pass.

The best way to defend the ball is when you have it yourself and Ireland had very little of it last night.

The result in Warsaw added to the sense of celebration and why not? It was an amazing point to get and I suspect that by the team other teams arrive in Germany to play, Loew will have sorted out his problems.

They still have serious issues in front of goal but there are far too many good players in the Bundesliga now for that to remain the case.

For O'Neill, Scotland is the next hurdle and I have to say, if he gets through that away assignment with a result, Ireland's chances of qualifying will skyrocket.

Already, this point looks like one which no other team in the group will match. Germany will recover and they will get better over the course of the qualifying series.

It is every early yet in the group and I suspect we will be doing our sums before the whole thing is over but on this night and in the mst remarkable circumstances, Ireland dug a point out of a desperate situation and great credit goes to all concerned for that.

One thing you never lack for when you are Ireland manager is the wholehearted commitment you get from the players and I think this was a perfect example of that.

As O'Neill said, team spirit alone will not win you too many games but without the complete commitment shown by men in green shirts, Ireland would have lost the game and the road to France would look a great deal more difficult.

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