Sunday, March 29, 2009

Questions, not answers - Ireland 1 Bulgaria 1

So the argument continues. After another unconvincing performance from Ireland ended in some dropped points at Croke Park Saturday night, we again find ourselves in the strange yet familiar situation of being terribly unsure whether the good is outweighing the bad here or vice versa. More questions than answers from Ireland's 1-1 draw with Bulgaria Saturday night, more doubts raised than dispelled and plenty of fodder for both sides from the Trap argument.

Well, where do you stand? Are we spoilt, hard to please brats for demanding a little more than being seven points clear in second place halfway through the group? Does Trap wonder where we get these ideas about ourselves - asking for flamboyance and flair from a side who've struggled far worse than this in previous campaigns and who basically are damn ordinary all told? Are we simply unable to pass the ball decently or are we being discouraged from doing so? Is the manager getting the most from an average side by being solid, defensive, bland and trying to nick goals or is he holding us back from the swashbuckling, all-action romping we're more attuned to (spot the sarcasm)?

You want more queries? How can we have any sort of control over possession, the tempo and rhythm of a game and the ball when our central midfield is incapable of passing, getting on ball and such basics? Is Trap really all that fussed by that lack of ball? Can anyone explain the meaning of Paul McShane? Is there a more headless, technically incompetent international footballer than Stephen Hunt? Are we overachieving, underachieving or rightly achieving? Is Eamon Dunphy right for once? Would Andy Reid or Lee Carsley make a difference? Does Stephen Ireland want to make a difference (and is it any fault of the management if he doesn't?)?

See how confusing it all is. Even Jumpthefence ain't all that sure which side he comes down on. All we know is that Saturday night's performance was jaw-droppingly, cringeworthingly, watch-through-your-fingers awful. We notched a goal within a minute and dropped everyone behind the ball. Bulgaria could hardly believe the ball they were given, pushed four men high up the pitch quite a lot, sent their full-backs forward and squeezed us into our own half. They weren't exactly whipping through us, but they had so much possession, Bulgaria couldn't but create chances. Given stopped a couple and the away side ought have taken at least one. Ireland simply could't - or didn't particularly want to - keep the ball.

Our central midfield tackles a little, harries, fills space and makes an obstacle in front of our defence. It doesn't, isn't capable technically, and isn't really meant to, look for ball, keep possession or influence the flow of play - boy how we miss Stephen Reid more than Andy. That puts serious pressure on our wingers and forwards to deliver when they get ball. Stephen Hunt sent in a wonderful free-kick and then went on to show just why he's not a good starter for us. Aiden McGeady was off-form and lacking sharpness. Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle hardly got a kick first half - though Doyle was excellent in the second winning ball in the air he'd no right to.

In our system we cry out for ball-playing full-backs. Paul McShane is so short on confidence and plain ability that he literally waved ball away from his direction during the game; he didn't want it. Kevin Kilbane offers nothing going forward and looked like being exploited again and again by the Bulgarians. Add all these problems up and there's a pattern. We'll spend more time than not without the ball, defending, organising and being ugly. John O'Shea and Richard Dunne were rocks and will always need to be, along with Shay Given. It's hardly rocket science; the less technically proficient sides will need to defend more. We might never like the idea but our manager doesn't trust our ablity to control the flow of a game or take off the leash and go all out at an opponent.

Ireland did have a bit more energy and attacking intent second half but conceded a goal at a time Bulgaria looked least like scoring one. Robbie Keane had a couple of half-chances and Kevin Doyle a full one but couldn't grab what would have been a stolen winner. It felt like a chance missed and a couple of points dropped and yet it felt like a performance like that didn't deserve a win. We're still seven points clear but if we get nothing in Bari and Bulgaria beat Cyprus at home on Wednesday, they'll know a win in Sofia would leave it at one point and them having a game in hand. This'll be a dogfight yet. Our saving grace is that's just what we're set up for.

Read Tom Humphries and Vincent Hogan's ideas here.

Back with Preview for Italy Wednesday.

Ps - to the eegits who booed at the final whistle. It was shocking yet not surprising. I'd spent two hours listening to a fair amount of, let's be honest, uneducated, badly-informed, waffle from a bunch of people near me in the Davin Stand who had little interest in anything but abusing the ref, moaning at the players and bringing the worst of English football-fan tradition to the experience. We're not Argentina. Please don't make this a consistent thing, it's not x-factor you're watching.

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