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Tuesday 19 September 2017

We showed that we can play positively but end product missing

Serbia’s Nikola Maksimovic of receives a red card from referee Cüneyt Çakýr. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Serbia’s Nikola Maksimovic of receives a red card from referee Cüneyt Çakýr. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It is deeply ironic that one of Ireland's best performances in the Group D qualifying campaign to date produced the worst result.

A sucker punch, breakaway goal gave Serbia the points and with Wales winning in Moldova, Ireland are now chasing in third place.

I was very heartened by the performance. It showed that they can play if they are encouraged to play and made the display last Saturday all the more stark.

They have shown it before that they can play as well as this and they showed last night they can hold the ball, use it positively and not just lash it away without any thought for the consequence as they did in Tbilisi and in other games.

I know many will point to Georgia and the points dropped there but this was a defeat at home which sits alongside poor draws against Austria and Wales at the Aviva.

From the first minute in this game it was clear that this was going to be a very different performance from what we saw in Tbilisi.

Hoolahan's appearance on the team sheet alongside David Meyler was as welcome as it was necessary and he tore straight into the game without hesitation.

His presence alone lifted the crowd because they could see straight away that his only interest was to place Ireland on the front foot.

He took on Nemanja Matic and won the ball and immediately, Ireland were attacking and all thoughts of Georgia pushed firmly to the background.

There was a pattern, an urgency and a direction to Ireland's play and most of it went towards Serbia's penalty area in what was a powerful statement of intent in the first 15 minutes.

Meyler was the other big change, picked instead of Glenn Whelan and again, dived straight into the game and made a big impact.

Suddenly, a Serbian team we were told was technically more gifted that Ireland looked anything but that. That happened because Hoolahan put it up to them.

It's difficult to be comfortable on the ball when you don't have it and every time you do, there's feet flying and opposing midfielders harassing you.

What impressed me most about that opening 45 minutes was the fact that it was a first rate team performance.

If there was one gripe, it would have been about the final product near the box which was a bit loose but it terms of subduing any threat Serbia might pose, it was definitely mission accomplished.

It was looking pretty good after the break too until one tiny lapse of concentration broke the line Ireland had held fairly well against Serbia's attempts to launch fast counter--attacks.

A missed header from James McClean, having a great game up to that point, on one side of the pitch and Jon Walters allowing Kolarov to get away from him on the other opened the door.

The last man you want to see coming onto a cross from the right at the far post is Kolarov and his shot was a bullet which Randolph barely registered.

That was a body blow and a short while later, there was another when Hoolahan was taken off and Daryl Murphy thrown on to make another big target up front.

For the life of me, I could not understand that substitution when Harry Arter was sitting on the bench, itching to make up for a poor performance against Georgia if Hoolahan was tired or injured which did not seem to be the case.

I have to say, I thought Ireland's chances of finding a way back into the game would be very, very difficult after that but Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir waved his red card at Nikola Maksimovic and anything was possible again.

They tried just about everything they had to find a goal but it wasn't to be and the price to be paid for not taking full advantage of the away win against Austria in the games since means that Ireland now have a mountain to climb in the rest of the group.

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