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Wednesday 26 September 2018

Now Lat' is more like it!

Irish flourish with Trap's shackles off

ALL ACTION: Ireland’s Wes Hoolahan in action against Latvia at the Aviva Stadium last night.
ALL ACTION: Ireland’s Wes Hoolahan in action against Latvia at the Aviva Stadium last night.

GIVEN his native Italy were playing a friendly in his hometown of Milan last night, you'd wonder how Giovanni Trapattoni spent his evening – catching up on the Italians in their game against Germany, or spying on the Ireland side which he was managing only a matter of weeks ago?

If he did watch Ireland beat Latvia, the former boss of the national team surely had some food for thought, as the new managerial team of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane enjoyed a perfect start with this 3-0 win, goals from Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady and Shane Long.

A win, a clean sheet, another record-breaking goal for Robbie Keane and a bunch of positive performances, on a night that ended with good vibes in the Dublin 4 air.

Trap might find it hard to admit if he had watched his former charges play, but it was a bunch of men who were ostracised by Trapattoni who stood out against Latvia.

Wes Hoolahan couldn't get into the squad, let alone the team, for five years but the man from the Canaries sang like a bird last night; Hoolahan at the heart of everything that Ireland threw at a poor Latvian side.

Hoolahan made his senior debut in Trap's second game in charge but was then ignored for half a decade, yet if last night against Latvia was an audition for Weso to show that he can help Ireland win football matches, then he's got the part.

 

STRONG

His place in the side is not a given as O'Neill is likely to try out Andy Reid in that role against Poland on Tuesday, and it's a concern that Hoolahan is not in the frame with his club, only one league start for a struggling Norwich this season. But he looked like a man at ease with the world and with his game last night.

He was name-checked by Roy Keane in the build-up to the match and Hoolahan responded with a strong display. And he wasn't the only one who looked like a new man.

James McClean and James McCarthy also seemed like free spirits, no longer burdened by the lack of trust shown in them by Trap. Kevin Doyle, Andy Reid, Shane Long and Anthony Stokes enjoyed their roles when sprung off the bench while a decent display by Stephen Ward showed that the left-back slot is not necessarily owned by Marc Wilson but could be up for grabs.

Of course we can't get too excited about this win. We have been here before, when Ireland managers had a flawless start to their reign (Brian Kerr's 2-0 win over Scotland, the 3-0 hammering of Sweden under Steve Staunton) but without the end product of qualification.

And while Latvia have big hopes for the future under their young manager Marians Pahars, they are no world-beaters.

 

LEAKIEST

Their starting XI last night had six players from their domestic league and the ex-pats in the side earn their crust with clubs in Switzerland, Poland and England's second tier.

They came to Dublin on the back of a run which saw them win just once in the last 10 games, and they have one of the leakiest defences in Europe.

Bar a narrow win over Liechtenstein, Latvia have had just one clean sheet in the last 15 internationals, no wonder they are ranked 117th in the world.

It took only 22 minutes to break them down, Robbie Keane the man to do the needful and claim his 62nd international goal.

It was a simple set-piece, Aiden McGeady's corner flicked on by McClean into the path of Keane, who didn't need a second touch.

Keane could have had a first-half hat-trick, as he saw his 23rd-minute shot saved by keeper Andris Vanins after McCarthy bravely won possession, and Keane tried again on 33 minutes, this time Ward the instigator as his cross was nodded into Keane's path by John O'Shea.

It stayed 1-0 until half time, and Pahars used the break to make a second change, throwing on Eduards Visnakovs.

Latvia did have more shape about them in the second half as subs Visnakovs and Danills Turkovs added some bite, and a bit of shape, to the away side.

But all they had to offer was bits and pieces and Ireland responded by grabbing a second goal, Aiden McGeady scoring on 68 minutes.

The former Celtic man has been lacking in goals for Ireland – this was only his third in 62 caps – and he was gifted the goal as defender Juris Laizans saw his poor clearance go straight to McGeady whose right-footed shot beat Vanins.

The crowd were by now craving a change and they got a triple substitution on 73 minutes, with Andy Reid, Shane Long and Jon Walters thrown into the fray, skipper Keane exiting the field as the captain's armband passed to John O'Shea, who is now only six games away from the 100-cap mark.

And two of those subs combined to give Ireland the third goal. Walters powered his way past his marker to spread the ball out to Coleman whose cross made it easy for fellow League of Ireland graduate Long to score.

O'Neill remarked before the game that he was aware that this was his honeymoon period.

A well-read man, he's aware of the phrase 'all glory is fleeting'.

But for now, this was a night to enjoy.

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