Wednesday 13 December 2017

O'Neill goes back to basics as Irish deliver

Experimental notions exorcised as the boys in green find higher level

Jonathan Walters celebrates with Cyrus Christie, left, after scoring Ireland's opener against Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Jonathan Walters celebrates with Cyrus Christie, left, after scoring Ireland's opener against Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Anyone who closed there eyes after about a half an hour of Ireland's visit to New Jersey last week can open them again now. The three-man defence has gone away never to be seen again.

Better still, with all Martin O'Neill's main men back, Ireland looked about ten levels better than the understudies did against Mexico and dispatched South America's Uruguay with some ease.

O'Neill dispensed with his experimental notions and picked four across the back. The surprise was that Kevin Long went in beside Shane Duffy, which must have been a blow to Richard Keogh.

With Ciaran Clark absent, Keogh must have thought he had a chance of starting against Austria but O'Neill said last week that he would pick his best team for Uruguay.

Both O'Neill and Roy Keane have been impressed with Long and his confidence on the ball from the start of the game showed why.

Another eyebrow raiser was O'Neill's decision to play Robbie Brady on the right side of a diamond with Jonny Hayes on the left, Jeff Hendrick behind lone striker Jon Walters and Harry Arter and Glenn Whelan as a defensive screen.


As it turned out, Brady was the pick of the bunch in the opening half-hour, always a threat on the right, dove-tailing with Cyrus Christie but also happy to come further inside as a link man.

Apart from one slightly lazy, early moment from Darren Randolph which almost let Edinson Cavani in, Uruguay were on the back foot from the first whistle

Cavani sauntered off after that incident, his Galactico leg must have twanged when he stretched for the interception. The rest of his team-mates looked less than fully engaged.

Shane Duffy had a chance to score after just 13 minutes when he almost got on the end of a sweet curled cross from Brady.

The chance was part of a steady build-up of pressure which eventually produced a result in the 28th minute.

Brady found Whelan in a central position and his attempt to lay it off to Walters caused a traffic jam, resolved nicely when he stepped out of the way to allow a shot and what a shot.

Walters buried the ball from 20 yards for the opening goal and a finish which sent a very clear message to his manager.

If O'Neill needs a goal against Austria, Walters is the man.

Uruguay stirred themselves after that and Martin Caceres hit the post in the 33rd minute when he might have done better and just five minutes later, they were level.

Jose Gimenez scored after Randolph's ill-advised attempt to catch an out-swinging Carlos Sanchez free-kick allowed Atletico Madrid's Gimenez to float a header into the net.

Just before the break, Walters missed a sitter. A cross from the right was steered across the face of the goal by Brady but the Stoke man, four yards out and unmarked, managed to hit the crossbar.

O'Neill brought on Wes Hoolahan for the second half and he had an immediate impact, passing for Christie to dance in from the right and attack two defenders on the edge of the Uruguayan penalty area.

Cacares stood off, Sebastian Coates fell over and Christie threaded a nice shot into the left corner.


The towel went in from Uruguay at that point and O'Neill looked to his bench. In came Wes Hoolahan, Aiden McGeady, Alex Pearce and then James McClean.

No friendly football for the man from Derry and a deadly counter-attack, sparked by a clever exchange between Hoolahan and Daryl Murphy near the Irish box.

A wonderful pass threaded down the left touchline was picked up by McClean who bore down on goal and hammered the ball to the net.


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