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Wednesday 20 November 2019

Swiss expose soft Irish centre

McGoldrick breaks duck to grab late equaliser and maintain run as McCarthy lauds 'durability'

The Republic of Ireland’s David McGoldrick celebrates his goal
The Republic of Ireland’s David McGoldrick celebrates his goal

A new man in the dugout but the same old problems bite away at the soul of the national team, Ireland's route to Euro 2020 still in view but one that will be rocky and rough.

And that midfield which has been a minefield for a succession of Ireland managers has, yet again, exposed the side to being punished by opponents who simply have more guile, more grace and also more grit when required.

The Group D leaders needed a late, late revival with a cross from James McClean and a header from David McGoldrick to keep up their unbeaten record in the group, on a night when Denmark went to Gibraltar and came home with a batch of goals.

Frustration was in the air for most of the night in Dublin 4 and Ireland will today feel that they escaped lightly here, an intense battle of two committed teams but neither of them good enough to win it, a draw a fair outcome in the end.

Switzerland's leading scorer, Xherdan Shaqiri, sat at home and sulked but his team managed to come away from home and score without him.

Relief

The relief for Ireland is not only from avoiding defeat but the fact that, at last, an Irish striker has scored. The Swiss felt they had won this game thanks to a classy goal from one of their defenders, Fabian Schar, only for McGoldrick to deny them that honour.

But the key for the Swiss was midfield, who had to be patient but did just that, kept their cool, kept prodding away at Ireland where the central area was, yet again, lacking.

The Irish midfield was packed with experience, 220 caps between the four of them, and plenty of knowledge about life in the Premier League too. But the cuteness of Granit Xhaka, and Denis Zakaria beside him, was too much for the Irish unit to bear at times.

The Swiss had a game plan, and much of it revolved around their man from Arsenal, Xhaka. Jeff Hendrick was almost welded to the Swiss captain for spells, such was the need for the Dubliner to devote his energies to keeping Xhaka quiet.

The central area has been a problem area for Ireland since long before McCarthy took over for his second spell. Getting those midfield men to dominate the game, and dominate possession, has often been the issue.

McCarthy said he wanted his team, and his midfield in particular, to be on the front foot but getting that to happen was not as easy as just wishing it would happen. And while the sides tested each other and teased each other out in the first half, the Swiss dominated for long spells of the second half.

It was only a matter of time before they scored, and when they did score it was a thing of beauty, a goal off the training ground, five passes before the cup de grace from Schar.

Ireland's goal was a meaty cross from the left, a deflection off a defender and a good header from McGoldrick, but Ireland need more from midfield to make sure that they are not coming from behind to earn a draw at home to the Swiss, need more from that area to win games like this and the two matches on the way, away to Georgia and Switzerland next month.

Conor Hourihane contributed set pieces but little else and while Jeff Hendrick last night looked like the player he was at his peak, in 2016, he needs people around him to allow Ireland dominate and not drag it back from the death.

It was a frustrating game for the Irish forwards, feeding off scraps as they searched for but did not get that constant provision of possession from midfield.

Callum Robinson lasted 58 minutes before he was replaced, by Alan Judge, nine games now without a goal for Robinson and another night when he never really came close to scoring.

Enda Stevens can have little complaints about his booking as his boot was high but Ireland did get some spots of luck on the night.

Fortunate

Glenn Whelan was very fortunate to avoid a booking when he challenged Schar in the first half, a lucky escape for the veteran.

Ireland were also lucky to have a defender as reliable and alert as Shane Duffy, who made sure that Darren Randolph had one of his quieter nights.

Fortune smiled on the home side again and again when Breel Embolo looked like he was about to score his fifth international goal, but his legs went from under him.

Luck smiled on Ireland last night, but getting out of jail cannot always be the game plan.

"They had some chances and we did as well," McCarthy said after the game. "There was an even amount of chances. I think we deserved it for our durability and we just kept going.

"We set off playing one system and I changed it two or three times to try and get a foothold in the game. They're a very good side but I'm proud of my players tonight.

"Are we the best team in the group? Probably not but they don't half keep going and they've given me everything they've got."

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