Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ireland 2 Georgia 1 - the escape

In the build-up to the game last night, RTE showed an interview clip of Giovanni Trapattoni saying the result was more important here than a performance, as a poor performance could be put right over time, but a bad result stands forever. In the end, it was hard to disagree with that logic. Ireland were desperate at times, and lacked any creativity or fluency, yet through sheer force of will and helped by the most dodgy penalty you're ever likely to see, they just about got over the line. Unconvincing, yet ultimately got the result, just like the manager's reign so far. We'll take that if it's going though; and the suspicion remains that Trap has luck in his corner.

For long spells it was about as pretty as the doodlings of a two-year old. That early goal rocked us back badly - Stephen Kelly's nervy beginning managing to make Paul McShane look solid - and in truth, there was a clueless aspect to our probings first half. Georgia were livelier to the ball, seemed to have numbers swarming everywhere and we just didn't have the necessary tempo, quality or possession to mount any sustained attacking. Given made a decent stop, Dunne put off their striker from a dangerous cross and all we had to show was a slightly harshly disallowed goal from Keith Andrews, a McGeady shot parried away and a few half-dangerous crosses.

We needed an upping of pace and tempo and in fairness, we got it second half. McGeady showed character and a willingness to get on ball to take people on over and over, even if his final delivery surely needs some work. Kevin Doyle worked his socks off, won a pile of frees with his strong running. Ireland hemmed Georgia in, balls flashed across goal and around their box and still there was little enough real penetration or chances being created - this was more shellacking their area and hoping for an outcome rather than sustained passing and probing. Still, we got a just-about deserved break, a crazy penalty decision which in fairness Robbie Keane stuck away coolly. Cliche but there was really only one winner after that and Keane then got his shoulder to a corner to knock in his second. Game over, as Georgia looked out on their feet.

Positives? Well we probably needed a win like that, a coming-from-behind, battling, digging out a few goals when needed sort of victory. It's a decent sign for morale, character and it ought to give us momentum now. Keith Andrews looked tidy in midfield. Doyle, McGeady and to a lesser extent Duff, stood up to be counted when the time came. It was a win and three more points.

And still there's that nagging thought that we were damn average at times. Jumpthefence would be closer to Graeme Souness' assessment of our squad than Dunphy's - there's no way you can argue that any more than one or two of our lads would make any world-class team - so perhaps sneaking wins of this sort isn't underperforming for us. But we need to sort out the lapses at the back that are still giving goals away. We're still taking a huge gamble playing two wingers and two forwards when we're so lightweight midfield - and we are lightweight there, Andrews did fine last night, Whelan wasn't good, but the two together aren't strong enough for a two-man midfield. Our set-pieces around their box were unthreatening for all the frees and corners we had, nobody seemed to have the quality or gumption to whip a fast-paced cross in. Robbie Keane might have had two goals but he was a shambles at times, dropping deep when he should have been up top, moaning at decisions and passes, flapping about without really achieving, basically being Robbie Keane. We do think Andy Reid should be in the squad, we're less sure of Lee Carsley, Stephen Ireland isn't the management's problem.

For now, we move on with hope and a bit of momentum, but let's not get carried away. Our next match will probably define our campaign - win it and we're battling with Italy for top spot, lose and we're totally back in the dogfight for second and with a lot of our tougher games left. We'll be back tomorrow with a look at how we might sort out midfield and what options are there.

Ratings for last night -
S Given - Possibly could have been more decisive with the goal but overall as solid as ever and made a vital stop first half. 7
S Kelly - Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear. So bad we pined for Paul McShane. Felt for him cos he's clearly so lacking match practise or confidence. 4
J O'Shea - Dominant throughout and rarely made an error. Attacked ball well in air. 7
R Dunne - No booboos of Man City proportions and shut down most threat from Georgia's attackers. 6
K Kilbane - The invisible man. Can't possibly say anything bad about him as he made no mistakes and didn't look under pressure but contributes so little going forward and never overlaps the winger. 6
G Whelan - Really needs a Stephen Reid alongside him to get away with it at this level. Wasn't sharp on the ball at all. 5
K Andrews - neat competitive debut. Looked for the ball, rarely lost it, got into some attacking positions edge of the box and drove forward second half. 7
A McGeady - looked our most consistent threat. Frustrating first half as kept hitting the first man with crosses but ran at defenders and always offered something. 8
D Duff - Still possesses inklings of the old Duff but just doesn't have the killer pace to get away from defenders anymore. Some nice touches. 7
R Keane - Managed to show why Rafa got rid of him while still scoring two goals. We'll admire the coolness for the pen and the instinct and determination for the second; it just glosses over the tactical unawareness, pointless runs, constant griping at teammates and officials and ineffectiveness.
K Doyle - the opposite of his partner. More effective on the ball, in linking play, in offering a genuine outlet with his strength in possession and runs. But never looked like scoring. 7

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