Saturday 22 October 2016

No glee by Lee as Belarus ruin party

Rep of Ireland 1-2 Belarus

Republic of Ireland’s Ciarán Clark in action with Belarus’ Alexander Hleb during their friendly at Turner’s Cross, Cork last night. Photo: Reuters
Republic of Ireland’s Ciarán Clark in action with Belarus’ Alexander Hleb during their friendly at Turner’s Cross, Cork last night. Photo: Reuters

Hardly the send-off Martin O'Neill or Roy Keane wanted in Cork and definitely a terrible night for David McGoldrick and David Forde.

Belarus came, saw and were underwhelmed by Ireland but all eyes were on O'Neill for his squad announcement after the game.

When it came, it meant that long-time squad member David Forde and David McGoldrick will not be on the plane.

Also ruled out were Darron Gibson and Eunan O'Kane while Harry Arter left the squad yesterday morning after pulling up in training with a thigh strain.

As a final warm-up for France, this was a poor, poor performance and a 2-1 defeat gives Martin O'Neill plenty to think about as he settles down on Fota Island for the next few days.

Cork put out the boat for O'Neill, Roy Keane and the rest of the Ireland squad and the irony was not lost on the Ireland boss that he was able to add warm weather acclimatisation to the list of boxes ticked by the decision to spend some time on Fota.

Turner's Cross was full an hour before the kick-off and unusually, the press box windows, normally solid protection against the prevailing gales and sluicing rain they're used to in these parts, were wide open to let out some hot air.

It couldn't have been further from the soaring stands in the Stade de France or even the Aviva but that was good. Never any harm for footballers to see their roots.


Ireland's group rivals, Belgium and Sweden both sent representatives on spying mission but Austria also had a man there with the Autumn World Cup campaign in mind, the same reason France sent their man to watch Belarus.

In the middle of much of the early action was David Meyler, cheered at every touch by the locals but it was Darron Gibson pulling the strings.

His lazy style always makes you wonder whether he's entirely awake but when Gibson's radar is primed, there are few better passers of the ball, short or long.

He sprayed passes left for James McClean and Stephen Ward to use and right for Cyrus Christie but with a wall of red shirts spread across the Belarus half, it was obvious that determination and maybe some magic would be needed to break them down.

In fact, Belarus had their own spell of decent pressure after 15 minutes but like Ireland, their best attempts broke against a determined defence until the 20th minute when they ruined the party mood in emphatic style.

Meyler lost possession in midfield and Ihar Stasevich raced down the right before whipping a cross to Mikhail Gordeichuk who absolutely buried a sweet curled shot in to the top right hand corner.

The worry was that Ireland couldn't do much to put matters right and if anything, Belarus had a couple more chances before green shirts got hold of the ball again.

Ireland finally found a chance in the 27th minute when McClean hammered a free-kick, on the edge of the Belarus box, into the wall but the rebound fell to Meyler who warmed goalkeeper Siarhei Chernik's hands with a stinging shot from 20 yards.

Daryl Murphy teed up Aiden McGeady for a decent chance three minutes later but he fluffed his lines and almost immediately, Belarus came close to a second, ten minutes after their first.

Maksim Valadzko let fly from the left edge of the box and Given had to throw himself full length to tip it over.

Ireland kicked off the second-half on the front foot and Murphy headed over after McGeady broke down the right and swung in a cross.

The chance signalled the start of Ireland's best spell in the game, spent mostly camped in the Belarus half.

Good work from Christie on the left almost produced an equaliser. He jinked through three defenders before whipping a ball in to Clark who couldn't get enough power in his header which was saved.

In the 62nd minute, hopes of a comeback disappeared into the sunset when Valadzko played a one-two with Nikolai Yanush and sent a speculative shot goalwards which sneaked in despite Richard Keogh's best efforts to clear.

O'Neill went straight away to his bench and threw in Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long but it was Ward who finally found a gap, cracking a diagonal shot to the net to put his team back in the game..

On came David McGoldrick and Belarus fell back in the face of a concerted wave of green attacks none of which produced anything more than goalmouth scrambles and one or two speculative shots.

McGoldrick provided one of them and although he didn't know it then, but that was to be his last involvement in the squad until the World Cup qualifying gets under way.

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