Sunday 21 January 2018

Ray Houghton: The penny has dropped with Ireland

Aiden McGeady
Aiden McGeady

Ray Houghton, Ireland's goal-scoring hero at Euro 88, believes that the current crop can no longer afford to do things by half if Martin O'Neill's side are to earn a place at France 2016.

The Ireland side now take a break from qualifying duties until that far-off June date at home to Scotland, though the Republic are still in contention after they clawed back a 1-0 deficit to earn a draw with Poland on Sunday.

To borrow a cliché it was a game of two halves, good stuff after the break from Ireland after a terrible firs 45 minutes and Houghton feels that O'Neill's side won't get away with a repeat in the key games ahead, especially the home dates with Scotland and Germany.

"Gibraltar away is a gimme and Georgia at home I expect us to win that, so there's six points," Houghton said in Dublin yesterday, as he oversaw the draw for the UEFA Regions Cup which is being held in Ireland this summer.

"The games that are really going to matter are the games against Scotland and Germany and they're both here and if we play like we did in the second half against Poland, we will definitely give both of them a lot of problems.

"We can't afford to play like we did in the first half. We looked a little bit edgy and nervous.

"We were a bit predictable, just watching. In the second half it was a different side. From the whistle, it was a different mentality among the lads," added Houghton.

"Something like the second half of Sunday night can transform you as a squad. All of a sudden the penny drops: what did we do different? Why were we much better in the second half?

"Poland were a good side, they beat Germany and drew with Scotland and in the first half they looked very comfortable. But in the second half it was anything but comfortable. They looked ragged and worried.


"They've still got a couple of tough away games, Scotland away and Germany away. Obviously you would want more points but I wouldn't be that downbeat.

"I still think there are opportunities for us to pick up points. Who knows it might go down to the last game. When we go to Poland it might be a shootout."

Houghton also hopes that there is more to come from the players in the squad he has most in common with, fellow Scottish natives James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady.

"I would like to see James get wee bit more on the ball. He's got great attributes defensively - in fact I actually watched him at QPR for Everton and he filled in as a third centre-half and did it really well.

" I would just like to see him get forward a little bit more. I think he's got more in his locker to get forward than maybe he's showing.

"Sometimes that comes down to that you don't want to gamble and you don't want to make mistakes. But that's when it comes down to not playing without fear, you just want to go out there and show people what you can do. I think there's a bit more talent in the team to come.

"Aiden hasn't been playing at Everton, he's been out of the team of late and I thought Sunday looked like he had lost match sharpness.

"It wasn't through a lack of effort, he didn't look as match sharp as the other players, a couple of balls that came into him he was stuck on his heels.

"Hopefully he can get back playing at Everton, Martin O'Neill trusts him and he has come up with some important games," added Houghton, impressed with the attitude of McGeady's replacement off the bench.

"James McClean came on and he was just very direct. He had a point to prove by coming on as a substitute, he was disappointed to lose his spot and he didn't sulk.

"He wanted to influence the game when he came on and he did that," added Houghton.

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