Republic of Ireland embarrassed by Wales in Cardiff
Uefa Nations League Cup B4: Wales 4 Republic of Ireland 1
IT was one of those abject displays that made you question everything. The lack of quality was sorely apparent.
But work-rate is something the Irish could always rely on.
But, for large parts of last night’s Nations Cup mauling at the hands of Wales, that basic component was absent.
When closing down the opposition seemed such a desperate chore for some of the Irish players, the spotlight swung inevitably to the technical area where Martin O’Neill cut a forlorn figure.
After that soul-sapping hammering to Denmark last year, has the O’Neill-Roy Keane axis run out of steam?
On the evidence of last night, the temptation is to say yes. But the pair will undoubtedly be cut a bit of slack as they seek to rebuild the squad.
First-half goals from Tom Lawrence, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey completely sickened the Irish while Connor Roberts added a fourth soon after the break.
Shaun Williams, a second half substitute for the Republic, grabbed a 66th minute consolation.
But it was dire stuff from the men in green in Cardiff last night.
Wales were good – very good at times – with infinitely more quality in their ranks, but the visitors were very accommodating guests in Cardiff.
You could find defensive fault with all of the goals the Republic conceded – even Bale’s jaw-dropping second goal for Wales.
O’Neill was missing a number of key players for last night’s first competitive outing since last November’s nightmare World Cup play-off defeat to the Danes.
Robbie Brady, James McClean, James McCarthy Shane Long and Arter were all absent while John O’Shea, Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan have since retired from international football.
Despite the absentees, O’Neill was still able to field an experienced back four – including the much-awaited return to the competitive stage of captain Seamus Coleman.
Callum O’Dowda and Conor Hourihane, meanwhile, were both given chances to further bolster starting places in the Irish team while Preston NE Callum Robinson was the only debutant.
The 23-year-old, a former England youth international, qualifies to play for Ireland through his Monaghan-born grandmother and was matched with veteran striker Jonathan Walters in attack.
Ryan Giggs, who was making his competitive managerial debut on the international stage since taking over from Chris Coleman in January, was able to field six of the side that suffered World Cup heartbreak at the hands of the Irish in the same stadium 11 months ago.
Unlike last October's World Cup showdown, Bale was on show and he was the difference in the first half.
It was Bale’s brilliance and the freshness young Tom Lawrence and David Brooks brought to last night’s clash.
From the opening exchanges the Welsh looked in the mood to avenge last October’s 1-0 defeat and they only had to wait seven minutes to go in front through roving striker Lawrence.
Joe Allen’s defence splitting pass saw Lawrence peel off Ciaran Clark and his low drive beat Darren Randolph at the near post to make it 1-0 to the Welsh.
Notably, O’Neill’s side were trying to play through midfield more than normal - but they paid the price when Jeff Hendrick’s poor pass out to Cyrus Christie was easily intercepted by Ben Davies.
The left-back hit a beautiful crossfield pass to Bale and the Real Madrid star cut in before curling the ball beyond Randolph to double the home side’s lead on 18 minutes.
The visitors were second best in every department.
O'Dowda, one of Ireland's more recognised creative players, squandered a couple of decent possessions in the final third. Hendrick and Hourihane couldn't get close to Allen or Aaron Ramsey and although Robinson threatened a couple of times nothing really came off for the striker.
By contrast, the Welsh attack rotated smoothly - with Bale and Brooks swapping positions and Allen continuing to probe.
The home side's clever movement seemed to confuse the Irish defence and it was no surprise they fell further behind eight minutes before the break.
Walters was too easily dispossessed by Chelsea's young star and man-of-the-match Ethan Lampuda and with the ball at his feet he made ground unopposed before finding Ramsey with a measured pass.
Desperately disappointing in the crucial World Cup Qualifier last season, the Arsenal schemer collected and Randolph was once again beaten at his near post.
The Irish could count themselves lucky they only conceded three goals in a disastrous first half. Bale had another effort from distance that was saved by Randolph and the fluidity of Wales's play was typified when right back Connor Roberts drifted into the danger zone but his glancing header from Davies's brilliant centre breezed over Randolph's crossbar.
Half-time couldn't come quickly enough to allow the Irish to regroup.
Hourihane was withdrawn at the break and replaced by international rookie Shaun Williams. But despite the 15-minute interval the Irish still laboured.
It took Wales just 10 minutes of the second half to carve open the Irish defence to register their fourth goal of the night. And they won't get the space they were afforded by the Irish defence for the remainder of their Nations Cup campaign.
Bale found the advancing Roberts who buried the ball past Randolph from 18 yards. But the lack of urgency shown by Hendrick to try and close down space was startling.
Moments later, Bale almost found the top right hand corner of Ireland's net with a cheeky curling effort as Wales went for five.
Welsh complacency more than good play allowed Millwall's Shaun Williams to nip in score, taking full advantage of some sloppy play from Ramsey on 66 minutes.
Randolph made a fine save to deny Welsh substitute Tyler Roberts after a simple one-two with Ramsey opened up the Irish again.
Wales cruised to the easiest of wins but there will be major questions being posed of the Irish players and management team after such a soul-destroying performance that lacked more than just quality at times.
Darren Randolph: You might be forgiven for being beaten at your near post once, but not twice. Should have done better for Lawrence and Ramsey’s first half goals. Made a couple of decent stops in the second half. 3
Seamus Coleman: Perhaps expected to be facing Gareth Bale but Tom Lawrence mostly patrolled his flank. Never had many chances to break forward and, in any case, Cyrus Christie was taking up the space he would have wanted to venture into. 5
Stephen Ward: Ireland’s left side was badly exposed but it wasn’t all Ward’s fault. Ciaran Clark had a poor night while Ward was caught up field when Hendrick gave away cheap possession that enabled Wales to score their second. 5
Ciaran Clark: Too easily by-passed for Wales’s first goal and didn’t sense danger well enough. Perhaps could have shown Bale down the flank rather than allowing him to cut in to score Wales’s second goal. A night to forget. 3
Shane Duffy: Never got to grips with the fluidity of the Welsh attack and some of his distribution could have been better. Only marginally better than his defensive partner. 4
Cyrus Christie: Sometimes it works when you play a full-back on the right side of midfield. Last night it didn’t. Still, he showed urgency and always offered himself as an outlet. 5
Jeff Hendrick: Awful pass that directly led to Wales’s second goal. His set pieces were generally disappointing and didn’t provide much of a defensive shield to his defence, especially for Wales’s third and fourth goals. 3
Callum Robinson: Showed some clever touches and did look lively a couple of times but the service into him was lamentable. 4
Callum O’Dowda: The Bristol City wide man was expected to offer the creativity but found himself trying to mind Wales’s flank man David Brooks. Too many balls came off him. 4
Conor Hourihane: Chased, harried and was busy but never affected the game. Withdrawn at the break. A night to forget. 3
Jonathan Walters: Lacking in match practice and it showed a couple of times when he was easily dispossessed by the deep-lying Ethan Lampadu. Did better with a couple of balls in the second half. 4
Shaun Williams: Finished well for his goal and improved Ireland’s midfield. 5
Enda Stevens: Entered for the injured Stephen Ward on the hour mark. Made one telling interception. 5
Daryl Horgan: Entered the fray for Robinson and worked hard without being especially dangerous. 5