No shafts of light as problems abound in Republic of Ireland ranks
BRIAN Kerr didn’t mince his words in the aftermath of Republic of Ireland’s scoreless draw with Northern Ireland on Thursday night.
One of the sharpest and forensic minds currently on the punditry circuit, the former Republic boss said: “Since the start of 2017, we have played 17 games. We have won three, we've drawn six and we've lost eight.
“And in those 17 games we have only twice scored two goals and no more. We scored twice against Moldova and two against the USA in a friendly. That's abysmal for our international team.”
It’s hard to argue with facts. It’s also hard to argue with Kerr’s “abysmal” assessment.
With each passing fixture, Martin O’Neill must wonder in private moments about the merits of remaining in the job after last year’s devastating World Cup play-off loss to Denmark.
Since that November night, there has been little discernible progress made, as outlined by Kerr’s scathing analysis.
A combination of retirements, long-term injuries, players out of favour at club level and a lack of genuine quality among the new crop are contributing factors for the Republic’s decline over the last 12 months.
And the fact the team has served up a succession of performances devoid of cohesion suggests that more attention to detail on the training ground might be required as O’Neill continues to experiment with a 3-5-2 formation, a system of play that served him so well at Leicester City and Celtic.
Against Northern Ireland, the system didn’t work.
Granted, John Egan and Darragh Lenihan – playing either side of Shane Duffy - only had four caps between them before Thursday night but they didn’t look that comfortable when drawn to either flank.
To compound matters, Seamus Coleman and James McClean were at best tentative in the wing-back roles with Coleman undoubtedly preferring to play in a flat back four while McClean is more effective with a full-back behind him.
But it’s in midfield where the real problems lie. Jeff Hendrick played his best game since Euro 2016 in the home defeat to Wales last month but his form dipped, yet again, in Thursday night’s friendly.
The Burnley man seems ill at ease anchoring the midfield and with James McCarthy on the long-term injury list, the Republic have no defensive pivot. Consequently, the midfield is all over the place.
It might have been worth retaining Glenn Whelan – in the short term – as he is at least a specialist in the defensive midfield role. From that position, everything flows.
Hendrick and Robbie Brady are more at home with an insurance policy behind them in midfield.
The problems continue to mount.
There is clearly a dearth of attacking talent in the senior squad with O’Neill trying out Callum Robinson, Sean Maguire, Scott Hogan, Aiden O’Brien and young Ronan Curtis with Michael Obafemi expected to get a run in Denmark on Monday night.
In Robinson, though, there are encouraging signs.
O’Neill and Roy Keane are undoubtedly open to criticism over the last 12 months in terms of formations and instructions – but one thing they can’t do is inject personality into players.
Jeff Hendrick has flattered to deceive on too many occasions. Harry Arter’s star on the international stage has already dimmed significantly while Callum O’Dowda’s progress has stuttered somewhat.
In short, the Republic resemble a team that is afraid to make a mistake. Compare this reticence with the cohesion and confidence the north played with on Thursday night.
The Republic have scored just four goals in eight internationals in 2018 and have averaged a mere 37 per cent in possession across those games.
Shots on target amount to a paltry 16, which works out at two per game, on average.
The Republic rely too heavily on grabbing a goal from a set piece to win games. It’s unlikely to improve either against the Danes in Aarhus on Monday night.
With Euro 2020 qualification beginning in earnest next March, there aren't many shafts of light.
2018 results to date
March 23 (friendly): Turkey 1-0 Republic of Ireland
May 28 (friendly): France 2-0 Republic of Ireland
June 2 (friendly): Republic of Ireland 2-1 USA
September 6 (Nations League): Wales 4-1 Republic of Ireland
September 11 (friendly): Poland 1-1 Republic of Ireland
October 13 (Nations League): Republic of Ireland 0-0 Denmark
October 16 (Nations League): Republic of Ireland 0-1 Wales
November 15 (friendly): Republic of Ireland 0-0 Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland stats in 2018 (possession, shots, shots on target)
Turkey 1-0 Republic of Ireland: Republic had 37% possession; five shots, none on target
France 2-0 Republic of Ireland: Republic had 24% possession; five shorts, none on target
Republic of Ireland 2-1 USA: Republic had 56% possession; 15 shots, three on target
Wales 4-1 Republic of Ireland: Republic had 32% possession; five shots, three on target
Poland 1-1 Republic of Ireland: Republic had 34% possession; six shots, two on target
Republic of Ireland 0-0 Denmark: Republic had 35% possession; three shots, one on target
Republic of Ireland 0-1 Wales: Republic had 42% possession; 11 shots, five on target
Republic of Ireland 0-0 Northern Ireland: Republic had 42% possession, eight shots, two on target