herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Patchy Ireland display but win is a win

Rep of Ireland 1 Switzerland 0

Shane Long goes for a header against Swiss defender Timm Klose
Shane Long goes for a header against Swiss defender Timm Klose
Darren Randolph celebrates Ciaran Clark’s goal. Photo: Seb Daly / Sportsfile

Martin O'Neill promised us something different, something experimental, but what we got was a scratchy, disjointed performance against Switzerland which was in line with everything we have seen so far during his time as Ireland boss.

He picked a team full of fringe men and youth against Switzerland and it wasn't too big a leap to imagine such a line-up running out against Serbia in World Cup qualifying in the Autumn.

But if he was looking for someone to emerge in a flash of light with Euro 2016 in mind, it didn't happen. Still, a win is a win.

It was a night for remembering football's role in the 1916 Rising in a stadium which bears no visible reference to the event within in its walls.

No real surprise in that. It might be noted that the programme for the game featured the story of Mount Street Bridge where IRFU President Francis Browning went down in a hail of Volunteer bullets.

Covering

In fact, the pictures covering walls along corridors in the stadium are of WW1 soldiers; Irishmen who died for a different flag than the one celebrated in a moving video shown before the game.

It was part of a nicely understated memorial moment which included a reading from the Proclamation by seven students from Trinity Comprehensive in Ballymun and a rousing version of Amrhán na bhFhiann from the Island of Ireland Peace choir.

After that, an explosive start to the action when Ciaran Clark nailed down his place on the plane to France with a headed goal after just two minutes.

Ireland began the game very much on the front foot and had already forced one corner when Robbie Brady swung another in from the left. Shane Duffy rose a foot above everyone else, powered a header towards the goal and Clark nipped in to score from five yards.

It was a fantastic start and set the tone nicely for the rest of O'Neill's Euro 2016 hopefuls even if Clark's target in the game was more about showing that he is good enough for the starting line-up against Sweden than simply making the plane.

Disaster struck for one of the men O'Neill particularly wanted to see over these two games in the 23rd minute when he came off worst in a sharp 50/50 tackle with Timm Klose.

Doyle ran on after taking a bang on the left shin but after five yards dropped to the ground, clearly in some distress.

It quickly became obvious that his injury warranted a stretcher and the ovation Doyle received was no consolation for a man who must have thought France was out of the question at that point.

As it transpired, he suffered a deep gash in his leg which needed multiple stitches but the initial prognosis didn't involve a break of any kind..

Shortly after, Switzerland had their best chance when Fabian Schar had a hopeful dig from 25 yards which clipped Clark on the way through to Darren Randoplh's safe hands.

In the 37th minute, Seamus Coleman broke free down the right and whipped a perfect cross into the box for Long to head against the crossbar.

This was positive, entertaining football from Ireland and perhaps closer to the O'Neill model he perfected at Celtic than we have seen so far, but there wasn't enough of it a patchy first half.

Switzerland's overly-committed approach to tackles left Stephen Quinn on the ground clutching his ankle after a clash with the appropriately named Granit Xhaka which earned the Arsenal target a yellow card.

But it also prompted O'Neill to look to his bench and he made a triple swap just after the hour, continuing his experimental theme - Eunan O'Kane for Meyler, James McCarthy for Quinn and Jonathan Hayes for McGeady.

Platform

McCarthy's introduction brought some much-needed quality in midfield and provided a platform for a better spell but the pattern which emerged in the first half 45 of relatively aimless scrapping around midfield repeated itself.

Not quite what O'Neill was looking for.

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