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Honeymoon Over

The fact that we were lucky to keep it to five conceded in Cyprus says it all about Ireland’s woeful display

Tony Cascarino, 25 Oct 2006

It’s rare that I’m gobsmacked by things which happen in football, but I couldn’t believe Ireland’s performance against Cyprus. We looked more like the Dog & Duck pub team than an international side, and were lucky to keep it to just five conceded.

Players making unforced errors isn’t necessarily Steve Staunton’s fault, but not having Lee Carsley in the original squad was. As I said last fortnight in my match preview, John O’Shea and Kevin Kilbane don’t do nearly enough tackling and general disrupting of the opposition. They also lack Lee Carsley’s ability to calm things down and bring the flair players around him into the game. Some people think that Lee wanting a guarantee he’ll start is unreasonable, but at 32 he’s a known quantity whose standard of performance never dips below seven out of ten.

Andy O’Brien, on the other hand, barely scraped a one against Cyprus. I don’t want to scapegoat an individual player when half-a-dozen of them were dire on the night, but Andy looked totally bereft of coincidence, which is probably down to him not getting his game at Portsmouth. While no player wants to drop down a division, he needs to move to a Championship outfit where he’s guaranteed week in, week out football.

There was effort, but absolutely no leadership, which is a big, big problem for Stan at the moment. Even with the 14 players we had out injured back, there’s no Roy Keane-style character to bark out orders in the middle of the park.

What you can’t blame the manager for is a normally reliable keeper like Paddy Kenny having one of the worst nights of his professional career, or Robbie Keane not being able to hit a barn door with a banjo at the moment.

With Clinton Morrison firing blanks again, it was even more apparent than before just how important Kevin Doyle is to Stan and, indeed, Robbie who needs somebody big and strong alongside him. Internationally, he’s not been the same player since Niall Quinn retired. Robbie needs a bit of helping out, which neither Clinton nor Damien Duff do enough of.

The one bright spot against Cyprus was Aidan McGeady who continued his form for Celtic this season. He’s bright, alert and able to ghost past players, which are qualities we desperately need.

The adage about clouds and silver linings came true when through injury Stan was forced to pick Paul McShane for the Czech Republic game. I’d heard good things about him and, sure enough, he was comfortable on the ball and very aggressive, which you need to be dealing with a man mountain like Jan Koller. It was the first proper centre-half’s performance we’ve had in a long time, and proves that we do have quality young players.

Another guy with a lot going for him is Stephen Ireland, not least because he has the ability to get a goal. He’s a good athlete who’s probably a prolonged run in the Manchester City team away from being an international starter.

As bad as the Cyprus performance was, it didn’t warrant the vitriolic gutter press attack that Stan and his family had to endure. You also had The Sun committing the worst tabloid sin of all with their Kermit The Frog and Miss Piggy stunt, which is being lame.

Of course, Steve Staunton isn’t the only new manager whose honeymoon period has come to an abrupt end. For a masterclass in tactical ineptitude there’s no need to look any further than Steve McClaren going with three at the back against Croatia.

You had John Terry giving the ball away more times in 10 minutes than he does all season with Chelsea, and Gary Neville and Ashley Cole completely isolated. There was no pace, which could have been rectified by giving a start to Theo Wolcott, who was inspirational for the England Under-21s against Germany.

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