- Lifestyle & Sports
- 12 Nov 17
Darren Randolph was Man of the Match. But how did our other players fare last night? And what team will Martin O'Neill pick for the crunch World Cup tie on Tuesday?
How was it for you? Subtle? Memorable? Explosive? Nah, none of those things.
Did Ireland play sexy football against Denmark last night? Not on your nanny. It was more a case of hanging on for dear life.
In fairness, Martin O'Neill's men did that relatively well. You could argue that by failing to secure an away goal, they came out on the wrong side of a 0-0 result. But the important thing is that we are still in with a decent shout. The Aviva Stadium will be a cauldron on Tuesday night. The question now is: can Ireland come up with a show to match it.
A lot depends on the team that Martin O'Neill selects. For the game in Copenhagen, he sprang one surprise, by including Callum O'Dowda, ahead of Glenn Whelan and Shane Long. It was a gamble that came off, more or less. O'Dowda did nothing wrong. But the selection of Daryl Murphy ahead of Shane Long was more problematic. Really, Murphy was hopelessly isolated upfront. He doesn't have the pace or the legs to trouble opposition that are good in the air – like the Danes.
On the plus side, the Irish defence were generally very strong last night. And there was one outstanding performer, in Darren Randolph. But we need more creativity. We need more guile. And above all, we have to keep the ball better, instead of whacking it hopefully – or one might more accurately say hopelessly – forward, in the process giving it back to the Danes time and time again.
Which – as ever – brings us back to one man. If we want to keep the ball, Martin O'Neill must start Wes Hoolahan against Denmark in Dublin. Hoolahan gets everyone around him playing. And he has the ability to conjure that special pass which can deliver a chance at least. It is worth saying also that he has started in some games that required a huge defensive shift – most notably when we beat Germany 1-0 in the Euro qualifiers – and did fine.
But I think O'Neill's stubborn streak will prevail. I suspect that the old Trappatoni line applies with Martin O'Neill too. "I like big", the 'wily' Italian said about midfielders. Ditto our current manager.
Ireland will have David Meyler available and he is likely to be given a starting role. I suspect that he will replace O'Dowda, with Robbie Brady shifting wide. O'Neill might just go with Shane Long up top, on the basis that he will be fresher than Daryl Murphy. And so we are likely to line-out as follows:
Randolph; Christie, Duffy, Clark, Ward; Brady, Meyler, Arter, McClean; Hendrick; Long.
It is a decent eleven. And we might just b capable of nicking it. But, if last night was nerve-shredding, then we can expect Tuesday to be even more so. The truth is that in so many ways, we were made to look like a bunch of learners, fumbling our way in the dark. And the truth also is that it doesn't have to be like this. We have it in us – and we have the players – to play a more sophisticated game. But, to borrow one of the great cliches of modern life, we are where we are.
Let's hope we can now go forward.
Darren Randolph 9
The Irish net-minder was a calming presence throughout and pulled off a number of fine saves, most notably the double in the first half when his recovery to stop the second shot was hugely impressive – and a superb stop near the end from a Poulsen header. Clearly the Man of the Match.
Cyrus Christie 8
Defensively, he was a bit vulnerable to the long cross-field balls that are a speciality of this Danish team. But he battled hard, took one on the head which might have pole-axed him, and made one brilliant foray into the opposition box to create Ireland's best chance, only to see his 'dink' stopped by Schmeichel.
Shane Duffy 7
A towering presence in the heart of the defence, Shane Duffy won a huge number of headers. There are times when he might just direct these better but he is strong in defence and dangerous in set-pieces at the other end. However, his distribution was too rushed and wayward at times.
Ciarn Clark 6
The captain for the evening, Ciaran Clark put in a good shift. He was unlucky with a quarter chance that fell to him in the Danish area, a nick on a Danish player making it difficult to control the ball. Like Duffy, his clearances were occasionally poor, with one gift to the Danes almost leading to a goal.
Stephen Ward 6
Like Christie seemed non-plussed by the diagonal balls to the Danish wide-players. He was solid otherwise but didn't mesh well enough with McClean to create real difficulties for the Danish defence. Needs a bit more space to flourish on Tuesday – and he might just get it.
Harry Arter 8
Of our three central midfielders, Harry Arter was by far the most effective. He ran, harried, made tackles and generally got in the face of Eriksen at every opportunity. He was also more composed on the ball than most of the Irish players – though that is hardly the highest recommendation on a night where we gave it away cheaply so often.
Jeff Hendrick 6
He worked hard, but got on the ball far less often than is necessary for a central midfielder. Maybe it was just me, but I saw so little of him that the word 'anonymous' springs to mind. One chance fell to him on the edge of the area, but he tried to take it around a Danish defender when a quick shot might have ricoched in. He has it in him to do much better. Let's hope he can find an extra gear on Tuesday.
Callum O'Dowda 7
There might have been a concern about his defensive abilities, but on the night he grafted hard and helped Cyrus Christie out on a number of occasions. He also looked full of potential when he got on the ball. He is not afraid to lift his head and run at the opposition. He will get better, which makes him one for the future.
Robbie Brady 6
On only one occasion has Robbie Brady really looked comfortable in the 'third midfielder' role allotted to him on occasion by Martin O'Neill, and that was against Italy in Euro 2016. Again last night, while he did good things and worked hard, he seemed uncertain when to press and when to funnel back. In addition, his set-pieces were not up to his usual very high standard.
James McClean 7
This was not one of James McClean's best performances. But he still was one of the better Irish players on the pitch. He ran hard, closed people down, did Trojan defensive work and generally made himself a pain in the ass to play against. Maybe the Danes were on his case, because it always seemed very congested down the left-hand side.
Daryl Murphy 5
It would be hard to fault Daryl Murphy. There was no quality whatsoever about the balls being pumped – or even lumped – in his direction. The role of lone striker just don't suit him. He isn't mobile enough to get at the opposition – or even to close them down effectively enough to trigger mistakes. None of this is his fault. He was, as ever, honest – but sometimes that just isn't enough.
Martin O'Neill 5
Ireland never gelled last night – and that was down to the team which Martin O'Neill put out there. It isn't just about Wes Hoolahan – though clearly we need him if we are to stop giving the ball back cheaply to the opposition. But the idea of lumping the ball forward when there is no one there to chase it – and persisting with the tactic when the Danes clearly have its measure – makes no sense. You have to credit O'Neill with the spirit, which the Irish team show. But that is only a part of what is needed. Will he do the right thing on Tuesday? Well, we think he will leave Wes out till the final 20 minutes. It might be enough, though it is not the way we would do it...