Trap's system collapses
FOR four years, Giovanni Trapattoni has been preaching about the primacy of his system. When push came to shove in Poznan, his carefully constructed pattern fell to pieces.
Now, it's about saving face and trying to limit the damage which is looming on the horizon when Ireland take on Spain next in Gdansk and, finally, Italy back in Poznan in a week's time.
Ireland finished their Euro 2012 opener against Croatia with three strikers and one winger on the pitch. Where was the balance Trapattoni loves to talk about? What happened to his system?
The mild optimism of the last few weeks has now been replaced by the gnawing concern that Spain and Italy will further dismantle Trapattoni's certainty about his system and leave Ireland in a bad, bad place and on an early flight home.
At the very moment when Ireland needed the security of familiarity, Trapattoni dumped his formula in the bin and threw more strikers at a problem which needed something different.
In short, he panicked, and that's not what we expect from a legend of management and a man who is paid €1.5m a year to look after the team so many people have invested hard cash to follow and support.
Particularly when he had two wingers, one young and one older, sitting on the bench itching to get on. James McClean never warmed up once during the 90 minutes and Stephen Hunt could only watch while Trapattoni threw Simon Cox on to play wide left.
It was confused thinking and created chaos when calmness was crucial. Croatia are a good team but they were not that good and clearly vulnerable at the back.
What was most annoying about this point in the game was the fact that Damien Duff, one of the only players to emerge from the night with his reputation intact, was making serious inroads down the right flank and had that been balanced by something similar on the left, who knows what might have been possible?
That word, balance, is one of Trapattoni's favourites but what was on show was the exact opposite. Robbie Keane, Simon Cox and Jon Walters fell over one another another pushing for an opening.
In that spell, Keith Andrews, Ireland's most attacking player on the night, had four clear chances - three with his head and one stinging drive which flew wide. Croatia were on the back foot and happy to throw a blanket around their box.
But Trapattoni's answer was to throw another striker, Shane Long, into the battle, a hopelessly inadequate response to the circumstances.
If we're honest, however, the game was lost a long time before that and lost because Trapattoni's strongest suit, his defence, caved in twice and handed Croatia two soft goals.
We can argue about penalties and poor refereeing but Slaven Bilic was precise and to the point when he said that Croatia were more aggressive, quicker to the ball and even when they bashed it long, had a much clearer purpose in mind.
Walters did his very best and could not be faulted, but every nick or touch he made was about hope rather than intent. Trapattoni needed the same kind of luck he had in spades in Moscow but he didn't catch a break.
The worrying thought is that no matter what he does and even if he makes changes, Ireland will be torn apart first by Spain seeking three points and then Italy who will also be hunting for a maximum to make it to the quarter-finals.
But he must consider dropping Robbie Keane who was very, very poor until he was substituted and should have been taken off long before Trapattoni called Kevin Doyle ashore.
Likewise Aiden McGeady, who had his worst game for Ireland. His only profitable moment was his beautifully flighted free-kick to the back post for Sean St Ledger's equaliser. Other than that, he was double-teamed by Croatian tacklers and all his tricks evaporated in the rain.
Trapattoni must also look hard at Shay Given who was clearly not himself and has obviously suffered from the relentless speculation about his fitness and the effort he had to make just to get to the starting line.
To be fair, the one area of Trapattoni's system which worked reasonably well was his midfield. Both Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews coped well with Luka Modric, who only found the space he needed in fits and starts.
But the rock Trapattoni has based much of his unbeaten run in competitive games on is his defence and from the very first few moments of the game, it was obvious that Mario Mandzukic was primed by Bilic to meet Dunne and St Ledger head on.
Tall, strong as an ox and surprisingly quick, Mandzukic was the focus of Bilic's attacking plans and while Modric sat deep, he carried the fight forward.
His two goals may have come from an Irish defensive mistake and a terrible moment of misfortune when his well-directed header bounced off the post and ricocheted into the net off Given's head, but he earned both of them and was the best player on the pitch.
So what next? Trapattoni will talk a lot in the next few days about his system and no doubt, will find ways to explain such a crushing defeat in terms which allow him to plough on regardless.
Almost certainly, Kevin Doyle will be sacrificed for the Spain game and probably replaced by Walters. The fact that McClean was never even asked to flex his muscles warming up tells us that Trapattoni does not see a role for him before the next set of World Cup qualifiers unless there is a major change of emphasis between now and Thursday.
This could be a very grim seven days ahead of us.
At the very least, Ireland must find four points from the remaining games against Spain and Italy and on the basis of what we saw last night, there is absolutely no chance of that.