Where to from here for Ireland?

On the 18th June 2012 on a balmy evening in Poznan Cuneyt Cakir blows his whistle to end the Euro 2012 group C match between Italy and Ireland. Italy have won 2-0. This is Ireland’s final game at the championships. The record is played three, lost three, goals scored one, goals conceded nine. How did it come to this?
The cynics may say that Ireland were fortunate to end up in a somewhat soft qualifying group for these championships where Russia were the only realistic opponents for the top spot.When the quest for automatic qualification failed they were again blessed to draw Estonia in the play offs. It could also be argued though that Ireland's main rival for second spot in qualifying group B, Slovakia, performed very credibly at the last World Cup. They qualified for the knock stages in South Africa at the expense of the then reigning world champions Italy. Their campaign at the World Cup was ended at the second round, but it took the challenge of the eventual finalists, The Netherlands, to send the Slovakians home. In Marek Hamsik Slovakia also possess one of the most promising talents in European football and one of the driving forces of Napoli’s resurgence as a force in Italian football.
As for Estonia’s less than glamorous billing in the play off. It must not be forgotten that the Estonians out qualified Serbia and Slovenia to reach the play offs. A qualification campaign that included a highly credible 3-1 victory in Belgrade.
A lot of chickens came home to roost for Ireland at this tournament. The first factor being the fitness of John O’Shea and Shay Given. In the lead up to the opening game against Croatia there was considerable speculation as to the fitness of these two stalwarts of the Irish rearguard. A big decision needed to be made, it looks now the like the wrong one was made on both counts. This was a situation that needed to be managed. Such a situation that Giovanni Trapattoni is charged with managing. What resulted was Shay Given turning in three performances that could easily see him ranked as the worst keeper at the tournament. John O’Shea was well below par for the first two games and his ninety minutes against Italy are possibly his poorest performance in an Irish shirt.
Another factor is having our captain playing his club football in the MLS. His brief stint at Villa Park aside it is now clear that Robbie Keane’s usual sharpness is being blunted by playing against some defenders that would struggle to get into most Championship squads. Also it is difficult to understand how after seeing Keane train and play for four years that a manager could possibly think that he is suited to playing up front on his own, This tactic against Spain was always doomed to fail and in conjunction with employing Simon Cox as a third midfielder it was like sending in a middle weight in against a heavy weight boxer and then tying one if his hands behind his back. To continue the boxing analogy the Ireland Spain game was like watching a good friend receive an absolute pummelling in the ring and for someone to hide the towel.   
The final factor is the system Ireland play and most importantly how the previous warnings as to this system’s limitations were ignored. It now seems clear that Ireland’s current system has a glass ceiling when it comes to achieving results. In certain circumstances or against certain teams it will produce the goods. However as the home qualifier against Russia in October 2010 demonstrated a good side can use a third man in centre midfield and pass Ireland off the field. In truth Russia gave Ireland a mauling that night in the Aviva and the 2-3 final score masks the gulf that existed between the two sides. Ireland were well beaten, lessons could have been learned, they weren’t. A brief flirtation with and extra man in midfield was attempted in the friendly against Uruguay when James McCarthy was played in the ‘No. 10’ slot. Trapattoni didn’t seem happy with how the experiment went and it wasn’t tried again. Not until the Spain game at the European Championships when Simon Cox battled manfully in what was a ‘square peg in a round hole’ solution.
So where to from here for Ireland? Well in practical terms it’s off to Belgrade for a friendly on the 15th August then in September the World Cup qualifying journey begins. After the ill-fated Euro 2012 campaign Trapattoni hinted that Ireland could switch to a 4-3-3 formation. 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 doesn’t really matter if the players aren’t encouraged to pass the ball and retain possession. In the game against Italy in Poznan whenever Ireland lost possession they seemed to gradually retreat to twenty five yards from their own goal and attempt to set up the defensive line from there. The space between five yards outside the Italian penalty area to twenty five yards from the Irish goal line is almost immediately conceded. If Ireland did regain possession more often than not the ball finds its way to the full backs and they send it long into the Italian half in the hope for scraps from knock downs. This is what needs to change. The midfield area needs to stop being a ‘no mans land’ for Irish players with the ball at their feet. 
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The true value of a player - The story of Andy Carroll and Shane Long

Just before the Premier League January transfer window of 2011 closed Liverpool paid Newcastle United £35 million for striker Andy Carroll.
At that time Carroll had only a half a season top flight experience behind him but Liverpool were still prepared to fork out a fee that would make Carroll the eight most expensive player in the history of the game. When the transfer went through Carroll was already carrying an injury, this meant he only made 7 league appearances for the remainder of the 2010-11 season where he pitched in with 2 league goals.
In August of 2011 West Bromwich Albion signed Reading striker Shane Long for an undisclosed fee which was believed to be in the region of £4.5 million.
At the start of the 2011-12 season Long was 24 years old and Carroll was 22. Six months previous Carroll was sold for nearly 8 times the transfer fee Long commanded so one would assume that Carroll is a vastly superior player and Liverpool should in theory get 8 times more performance form their purchase.
When you analyse their respective performance in this season’s Premier League the truth is a little different. Since the start of this season Carroll has played 728 minutes of football for Liverpool while scoring 2 league goals, this is a return of a goal for every 364 minutes on the pitch. In the same period Long has managed to play 982 minutes for West Brom with a return of 5 league goals, this is a goal for every 196.4 minutes on the pitch.
The varying plight of each club doesn’t put Carroll’s performance in any better light. Liverpool are doing better than West Brom and scoring more goals. They currently lie in 7th position in the Premier League while West Brom are further down the table sitting in 14th spot. West Brom have a haul of 13 goals this campaign so far while Liverpool have fared a little better scoring 17 times. This shows that Shane Long has so far accounted for 38.5% of his sides’ league goals while Andy Carroll has only shared the burden by scoring 11.8% of Liverpool’s league goals so far.
It would not be entirely fair to judge either player just on their so far short stay at their new clubs, they both have a long way to go on their respective contracts and in their careers. The figures though are telling.
So the question is why is there such a disparity in the transfer money paid for both players? If Andy Carroll had a glittering career previous to joining Liverpool the astronomical fee paid for him would be more understandable. However in his last full season in the Championship (2009-10) he scored 17 times for Newcastle and ended up joint 6th top scorer in that division. In Shane Long’s last full season in the same division (2010-11) he tallied 21 goals for Reading finishing joint 2nd top scorer.
Carroll did burst into the limelight during the first half of the 2010-11 Premier League season when he bagged 11 goals in 19 games for the then newly promoted Newcastle. Much hype was created by this performance, Newcastle had an "Old Style" English centre forward and he was banging in the goals for the Toon Army. Alan Shearer had a successor at last, all was looking rosy in the North East of England and all going well the English national side itself may also have a new saviour.
It is however very hard to believe that this 11 goal haul and the accompanying hype could inflate his transfer fee to the figure Liverpool eventually paid. There is little evidence apart from this half season performance that he should stand out from the crowd or that he could be considered the eight most expensive player in the history of football.
It should be mentioned though that Andy Carroll does qualify for the Premier League ‘home grown’ quota, where eight of the first team squad must have trained with an English or Welsh club for 3 years before their 21st birthday. Long misses out on that rule by 6 months. Qualifying for this quota will undoubtedly put a premium on player’s value but it cannot explain the fee stumped up for Carroll.
 When Liverpool bought Carroll they had just received £50 million from Chelsea for Fernando Torres and Newcastle United, like the rest of the world, knew this. However it would make very poor business practice if Liverpool merely paid the price they did for Carroll because Newcastle knew they had money burning a hole in their pocket. It would be fair to say that Kenny Dalglish needed to replace Torres for the remainder of the season at the very least, but as is mentioned above Andy Carroll was injured and not fit to play when the deal went through.
Also off the field Long looks to be a far more stable bet than Carroll, and is unlikely to attract all the negative attention that has so far blighted the big forward’s career.
So are West Brom the best run business in the Premier League and has Roy Hodgson got the best eye for a bargain? Or are Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish the exact opposite of how things are run at The Hawthorns? The truth is probably somewhere in between these two assertions. So far though Shane Long has proved to have been a good bit of business for West Brom. The same cannot be said for Andy Carroll.

Andy Carroll
Shane Long
Price Paid at Last Transfer
PL Minutes on Field in 2011/12
PL Goals Scored in 2011/12
Minutes on the field per PL Goal
Overall Team PL Goals so far in 2011/12
% of Teams PL Goals Scored
Goals in Last Full Season in C'ship

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Trapattoni gets good return from available resources

On Friday evening in Tallinn the Republic of Ireland will be 180 minutes from qualifying for their first major tournament since 2002 and only their second ever appearance at the European Championships.
Regardless of whether qualification is achieved or not the performance of manager Giovanni Trapattoni will be the subject of much debate. If we qualify some may argue that it was done the hard way and quite possibly another manager could have the job done by now and not needed the lottery of the playoffs. Two points were dropped away in Zilina when Ireland escaped with a draw when the game was there for the taking. The home performances against Russia and Slovakia drew much criticism also. Against the Russians Ireland were torn apart on a home pitch in a fashion rarely seen. The visitors were so far ahead of the Irish side that night that their 3-0 advantage on 50 minutes was kind to the home side. The fact that the game finished 3-2 merely puts a nice gloss on the records, Ireland were annihilated that night. The midfield were constantly outnumbered which allowed the Russians to pass their way to goal time and time again. Many questioned why changes weren’t made earlier in that game to redress the numerical imbalance in the engine room.
The home game against Slovakia was another let down for Irish supporters. The night promised much, a home win and we could have conceivably topped the group. Ireland displayed in Zilina that we have players that are more than a match for Slovakia, so three points at home should be well within our compass. What followed was one of the worst home performances seen for years, and only for a heroic block by Sean St. Ledger Slovakia could have plundered the Aviva for all three points. Few would have said that they did not deserve them.
If we don’t qualify the knives will surely be out for the Italian manager.
Trapattoni could argue that a place in the playoffs is a decent return for the players at his disposal, and his much criticised tactics are designed around the players he feels are worth their place in his first eleven.
It is worth comparing the squad that qualified for our first appearance at the European Championships in 1988 to the current crop. Of the players picked by Jack Charlton for those qualifiers seven were in the squads of the top two finishers in the top division of English football in the summer of 1988. Jim Beglin, Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge were on the books of the champions Liverpool. Aldridge was their top scorer in that title season. Kevin Moran and Paul McGrath were with second place Manchester United. In addition to this Frank Stapleton had left Manchester United for Ajax in 1987 and Kevin Sheedy was plying his trade with Everton who finished fourth in England that summer.
The late eighties were during the period when English clubs were banned from European competition so the English game was not awash with continental and South American stars as it is today. However it was only four years previous to 1988 when Liverpool were crowned champions of Europe. So that illustrates that the league, even with its exile from European competition, still contained some of the top sides on the continent. In today’s terms this would be the equivalent of seven of our squad playing for the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.
Darron Gibson is on the books at Manchester Untied but he is very much a fringe player at Old Trafford and has also fallen down the pecking order with the national squad. 
In 1987 Liam Brady returned from his seven year stay in Italy. This was when the Italian league had a two foreigner rule for each squad so only the finest players were imported into Serie A.
Trapattoni can only dream of the resources available to Jack Charlton in 1988. Our current squad are found in the middle to lower reaches of the English top division. Of the team that will probably take to the field on Friday night two, Keith Andrews and Sean St. Ledger, play in the second tier of English football. The mainstays of the current squad are more likely to be involved in the relegation fight in the English Premier league rather than the title chase. Our captain plays in the MLS, a league which is realistically a retirement home for European stars or a staging post for U.S. and Mexican players looking to attract the eye of suitors from European clubs. However that move can be dressed up it is highly likely that if we qualify that Ireland will be the only side at Euro 2012 whose captain plays in the U.S. league.
The current squad contains some talented players and some excellent prospects for the future, Aiden McGeady being an example of this. Many of our better players, Keane, Duff, Given and Dunne, are in the autumn of their career. Although Richard Dunne’s recent performances would suggest that he is in the form of his life. Trapattoni is certainly no miracle worker and despite the erratic results that were a feature of the closing stages of the Euro 2012 Group B Qualifiers the Irish players are certainly good enough to finish where they did, and are full value for their place in the playoffs.  There are certainly other managers who could also have steered Ireland to a playoff spot but there are many more that would have floundered and it would have been another campaign of “what ifs”.
Too often he is accused of not getting the most out the players available to him and imposing a defensive straightjacket on players. The players that Trapattoni does not pick is another stick that is issued to beat the Italian. At the start of his tenure there was an outcry for Andy Reid to be employed as a lynchpin of our midfield. The subsequent decline in Reid’s club fortunes may hint that the correct call may have been made here by the Italian. Other names suggested that would improve the team have been James McCarthy, Wes Hoolohan and more recently Leon Best. There is also he who should not be mentioned.
Too much time is spent musing over the players that he could or should call up without a thorough evaluation of how they would really improve the side, Stephen Ward being a recent example of this.
Many Irish fans will quite rightly expect the national side to progress past Estonia and book a place at Euro 2012. If that does happen Trapattoni should get the praise he deserves. Some level of realism needs to be engaged when evaluating the players he has available to him. 

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Trapattoni’s destination trumps the journey

Two games left, two points behind the group leaders and one point clear of second place. Ireland’s passage to a play-off spot is now in their own hands. If that scenario was presented to Giovanni Trapattoni and most Irish football fans last September when Ireland started out on this qualification campaign it may not be a stretch of the imagination to guess that they would have grabbed it with both hands. Added to our second spot in the group table we also have arguably the easiest run in of the four sides still in the mix for the top two spots. Although Armenia’s win in Zilina may have to change some peoples assessment of how easy our fixture against Vardan Minasyan’s side will or will not be on October 11th in the Aviva Stadium.
As one former political leader was often heard say “we are where we are”, but most Irish football fans will be wondering which is more important, the destination or the journey.
In this case the destination is far less gruesome than the journey that took us to this point. The journey of the last two games in particular made very hard viewing for many.
Heading into the game against Slovakia last Friday night the optimism was palpable. There was a feeling that we had let the visitors off the hook in the reverse fixture in October of last year. The game finished one all but Ireland missed a penalty through Robbie Keane, and Keane was again guilty of squandering a glorious chance in the closing stages of that game to take all three points. Quite reasonably Ireland felt hard done by to leave Zilina with only one point. There was an air of unfinished business about Friday’s fixture.  Unfortunately what transpired over the ninety minutes took most of the home support by surprise, and for all the wrong reasons. The game finished scoreless, which would have been a disappointment with the performance aside, but it was that performance that left so many deeply disenchanted.
So many of our regular performers were way below par. Kevin Doyle, who is usually a guaranteed seven out of ten performer at the very least, had one his worst games in a green shirt, in addition he appeared frustrated and annoyed. Aiden McGeady, John O’Shea and the midfield duo of Glen Whelan and Keith Andrews were way below the standard required on the night. Individual failings are one thing but the lack of collective design or game plan was galling. One a night where we should have been taking the game to the opposition our midfield showed no desire to take the ball from the back four and direct affairs. For all that was wrong on the night the hosts could have still won the day. It was through Damien Duff, a player who led on a night when few followed, that Ireland could have won all three points. On 74 minutes Duff sent a beautiful cross in with his left foot to Robbie Keane who was lurking at the back post. The Slovakian defence were caught flat footed, the ball dropped invitingly to Keane who is no more than eight yards out. Keane only had to direct the ball either side of the Slovakian goalkeeper Mucha with his head. What followed only drew howls of derision from the home support in the Aviva, howls that would have made a sailor blush. The visitors themselves could also have taken the win if it wasn’t for a heroic block by Sean St. Ledger.
For Tuesday’s game in Moscow there were some fanciful predictions that Ireland could win the game, that our away performances have been far superior than our efforts at home under Trapattoni and that had to be a factor. What followed on the night was an onslaught on Shay Given's goal. The Aston Villa custodian reminded all that he is a world class keeper, if reminding was indeed necessary. Even better than Given on the night was Richard Dunne. The centre half turned in one of the finest defensive performances in an Irish shirt for years. It was a performance of the magnitude that it should quite rightly be spoken in the same terms as Paul McGrath's in the Giants Stadium some seventeen years ago. Worthy of a mention too is Darren O’Dea. The defender who is currently on loan at Leeds Utd was out of necessity thrown in at the deep end and into the lion’s den that was the Luzhniki Stadium. O’Dea was shoulder to shoulder with Dunne in repelling what seemed to be an irresistible Russian attacking force which was skilfully orchestrated by Andrey Arshavin.
The game somehow finished scoreless. Quite rightly Dick Advocaat and his Russian charges will feel very hard done by, but finished scoreless it did and Ireland left with a point.
Going into the last two games of this campaign it’s probably fair to say that Slovakia may not be as good as many may had thought, and equally Armenia could well be better than many had thought.  Ireland’s draw in Moscow gave Giovanni Trapattoni’s side their seventh consecutive clean sheet, an Irish record. A commendable feat indeed, but it is at the other end that the boys in green will need improve things if they are going to achieve qualification for Euro 2012.
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Ireland’s destiny in their own hands

With just Tuesday’s friendly in Liege against Italy to negotiate before their Summer break, Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squad can feel satisfied with their weekend’s work. With six games played and four left to contest in their campaign in Group B of qualifying for the 2012 European Championships the Irish squad know that their passage to Poland and the Ukraine is entirely in their own hands.
That said two of the four remaining games are against their rivals for qualification, with Slovakia visiting Dublin on September 2nd and then Ireland’s visit to Moscow four days later. Qualification chances are helped by the fact that Russia visit Slovakia on October 7th, so at least one of the sides that night will drop points. That means a return of four out of a possible six points during September should guarantee at least second place for the Republic of Ireland. Second place would most probably mean the unhappy hunting ground of the play offs. Of course beat both Slovakia and Russia and Ireland will qualify automatically as group winners, that is barring a disaster against either Andorra or Armenia. Slovakia’s victory in Moscow in September of last year and Russia’s unconvincing performance against Armenia in St. Petersburg at the weekend illustrate that victory on Russian soil for this Irish side is not beyond the realms of belief.
The Irish win in the Macedonian capital on Saturday was thanks to two Robbie Keane goals. Both goals were somewhat fortuitous, the first on eight minutes via a significant deflection, while the second nine minutes before the break was thanks to some atrocious defending by Boban Grncarov. Keane’s anticipation for the second was highly commendable, the Irish record scorer was already in full flight before Grncarov stubbed his pass back into the turf. That anticipation was followed up by a fine finish when Keane slotted the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
The game in Skopje was played in the reconstructed Philip II Arena. A fine modern arena that is in complete contrast to the dimly lit dirt tracks that lead up to the stadium. Trying to find the correct entrance on Saturday left the travelling Irish fans longing for the sometimes over regulated colour coded ticketing and turnstile system used for the Aviva Stadium.  
At times the contest in this revamped stadium on Saturday seemed like a battle of the two defences, as to which one would prove the most inept. In the end both defences let their guard down all too often but the difference was that the Irish attack punished their hosts rearguard while the Macedonians let Ireland off the hook more than once. The penalty miss by Ivan Trickovski was more mercy than the Irish defence deserved. The Macedonians could well have had another penalty earlier in the half when John O’Shea hauled down Goran Pandev. Had Florian Meyer pointed to the spot on that occasion it could have been double disaster for Ireland as he would have been well within his rights show O’Shea a red card.
After Ireland’s previous bad experiences and poor fortune in Skopje they should make no apologies for the few slices of fortune that allowed them to leave with all three points.
One of Ireland’s better performers on Saturday night was Aiden McGeady, at times he was carrying the threat to the hosts alone. His forays down the left wing were a constant worry for Macedonia. He usually faced two if not three defenders when he ball came to his feet, an illustration of the concern he caused in the home defence.  If Slovakia assign the same level of cover to McGeady when they visit Dublin in September an overlapping full back could cause serious damage to the visiting defence. That is of course if Trapattoni allows his full backs cross the half way line.
McGeady and his overlapping full back aside Ireland could well have a much stronger side facing the Slovakians than took to the field in Skopje at the weekend. Due to return from suspension and injury are the key men of Dunne, Doyle and Duff. These considerations added to the fact that Ireland let Slovakia off the hook with a draw in Zilina back in October mean that Trapattoni’s men should feel confident of taking all three points. Three points that would tee them up for their formidable task of the visit to Moscow on September 6th.   

Follow me on Twitter @shanegunning
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Manchester United in Pole Position to Claim Premier League Title

Five points clear with eight games remaining. That is the enviable position Manchester United find themselves in as the Premier League gears up for action this weekend following the recent International break.  Granted second place Arsenal do have a game in hand but Manchester United must be clear favourites at this point to capture the 2010–2011 Premier League title.
The crucial ties for Alex Ferguson’s side will be the May 1st visit to London to play Arsenal followed by Chelsea’s visit to Old Trafford seven days later. Before United can contemplate those heavyweight clashes they must first visit Upton Park to play West Ham United this Saturday. West Ham themselves are in desperate need of points as they only have their noses just out the relegation zone by virtue of a superior goal difference to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
West Ham are in fine form and have lost only one of their last seven Premier League matches. They are hoping to welcome back striker Frederic Piquionne from injury to bolster their attack. One forward they will certainly have available for selection after a spell on the physio’s  bench is Robbie Keane, who is on-loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Keane’s confidence should be high as he found the net last Saturday for the Republic of Ireland in their 2-1 Euro 2012 qualifier win against Macedonia in Dublin.
The return of Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic from injury will come as a welcome boost to Alex Ferguson as he knows Upton Park can be a tricky place to visit. United’s last visit there resulted in an embarrassing 4-0 reverse last November in the Carling Cup quarter final. This though is the business end of the Premier League and is a very different setting to the Carling Cup on a Winter’s evening. Anything other than an away win really is unthinkable.
Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal can welcome back from injury key man Cesc Fabregas for Saturdays game against Blackburn Rovers at The Emirates Stadium. Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Abu Diaby also return. Wenger must have sweated a little as he waited to hear the full extent of Robin Van Persie’s injury he picked up playing for The Netherlands during mid week. Van Persie opened the scoring for The Netherlands in that tie but had to be withdrawn on 46 minutes with an injury. This now appears to be a minor knock and he should fit for selection.
Despite Blackburn being five spots above the relegation zone in thirteenth place they are very worryingly for them only one point above safety. Given their perilous position Blackburn would crave anything form this weekend’s tie. Arsenal though are hot on the heels of Manchester United for the big prize and will surely pick up all three points.
Third place Chelsea, four points behind Arsenal, are now almost certainly out of the race for the title. They face a very tricky visit to Stoke on Saturday. Stoke are in high spirits and will be looking forward to their FA Cup semi final against Bolton Wanderers on 17th April. That distraction aside Stoke will fancy their chances against their visitors this weekend and should expect at least a point from the game.
At the other end of the table the clubs currently in the relegation zone Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City and bottom club Wigan Athletic face Newcastle, Bolton and Tottenham respectively. Of the clubs in trouble Wolves are probably best placed to pick up something from these games. However the recent international break was very costly for Wolves as star forward Kevin Doyle picked up and injury playing for the Republic of Ireland. Doyle could be out of action for eight weeks.  With just three points separating Wigan in bottom spot and Blackburn in 13th the race to avoid the drop is even closer than the race for glory at the opposite end of the table.    

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Ireland fail to get the best out of McCarthy

After 65 minutes of Tuesdays international friendly against World Cup semi –finalists Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium James McCarthy was withdrawn from the action. It had been a frustrating night for McCarthy who was deployed as an advanced midfielder playing behind front man Shane Long.
All too often McCarthy dropped into space showing for the ball, palms open and pointing to his feet. McCarthy wasn’t in the mood to hide, he wanted to get on the ball. Unfortunately his showing for the ball was usually in vain, as more often than not the ball was launched long towards Long. McCarthy had to spin without the ball and play the lottery of trying to guess where the knock down would drop, that’s if the defender didn’t win the challenge with the Reading front man. Instead of linking the defence with attack or wide men with the distribution that he is well capable of, McCarthy had to chase lost causes or hope for the scraps that may drop from Long’s tussles with the Uruguayan defence.
When the Wigan midfielder did get on the ball he had a positive impact on proceedings. Epitomised with winning a penalty on 48 minutes. This followed some great work by Shane Long to get to the by line and feed the ball across the area to the on rushing McCarthy. Fahey dispatched the penalty beyond the Uruguayan goal keeper Muslera. This pulled one back for the hosts to make it 3-2 to Uruguay and would prove to be the last goal of the game. Although how Andy Keogh missed with a header from two yards with the goal at his mercy on 80 minutes is anyone’s guess. This would have given Ireland a draw that they would have probably been fortunate to get.
The scoring was opened on 12 minutes when Lugano slotted the ball home from close range for the South Americans. Westwood would have expected his defence to be sharper to clear the ball on this occasion when they all appeared to stand waiting for an invitation to clear their lines. Three minutes later Ireland responded when the superb Long finished with his head from a fine cross by Liam Lawrence. Twice more before half time the Irish defence would be culpable of failing to protect Westwood, the beneficiaries were Cavani on 22 minutes and Hernandez on 44 minutes. Giovanni Trapattoni and Westwood can’t have been pleased with the Irish defending over the 90 minutes tonight. The Coventry keeper could hardly have been blamed when he vented his spleen at any one in a green shirt within ear shot after Hernandez found the net. Despite conceding four goals in two games Westwood surely has enhanced his reputation tonight and against the Macedonians on Saturday. His fine double save on 69 minutes from Cavani and Hernandez illustrating Westwood’s pedigree.
McCarthy’s withdrawal on 65 minutes for Keith Treacy was coupled with Fahey been withdrawn for Darron Gibson. These withdrawals produced a few groans of frustration from the meagre crowd in the Aviva. McCarthy may not have set the world alight while he was on the pitch but in this player there is always the potential to open a defence and any good passing movements the hosts produced were usually strung together by Fahey. This left Paul Green was the surviving starter left in the middle of midfield. Green again did not have his finest match for Ireland. He battled manfully to cover ground and close down opponents. This was rarely effective and his mistakes left his team mates on the wrong foot on more than one occasion. Green’s distribution again looked short of the standard required at this level.
Aside from his part in Cavani’s goal Fahey was impressive on the night and he will have hoped that he did enough to edge himself closer to a starting berth for the trip to Skopje in June.
Before then Ireland have two Carling Nations Cup games against Northern Ireland on the 24th May and Scotland five days later. Hopefully James McCarthy will get an opportunity in these two games to prove what he can offer to Trapattoni. Playing behind a front may not have worked as hoped tonight, but the project should not be abandoned altogether. There would appear to be little point in playing a link man between midfield and attack if he is ignored when showing for the pass. McCarthy has proved at club level he can also play in a midfield two, but given Trapattoni’s strict pecking order for positions it appears unlikely he will dislodge others given the nod in this position to date. The upcoming Nations Cup games seem ideally scheduled to see McCarthy perform in either of these positions. If he is given this opportunity it will offer a better picture of what this undoubtedly talented player can offer Giovanni Trapattoni in his quest to get Ireland over the line in the battle for qualification for Euro 2012.

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