Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Clark Claims Left Back Berth

After 90 plus minutes of tonight’s Carling Nations Cup tie at the Aviva Stadium two questions appear to have been answered. The first is who should be Ireland’s first choice left back after Kevin Kilbane’s extended caretaker occupation of that role, the answer is Ciaran Clark. The second question is what sort of task lies ahead of Gary Speed for his three and half year contract as manager of Wales, the answer to that is mountainous.
Kilbane’s deployment at left back in recent times may have been argued as a necessity due to the paucity of alternatives. However Stephen Kelly or Kevin Foley may have been a more reliable option, granted neither are natural left backs, but then again Kilbane is not a natural defender.
Clark gave an assured if not spectacular performance tonight. It was by no means his finest ninety minutes, on the half hour he gave away an unnecessary free kick after fouling Nottingham Forest’s Robbie Earnshaw in a dangerous area of the field, against a more competent outfit Ireland and Clark may have been more comprehensively punished. The odd mistake here and there aside Trapattoni would have to have been very happy with the performance of his new left back. With the next qualifier against Macedonia in the Aviva fast approaching on the 26th March one would be very brave to bet against Clark’s inclusion in the left back slot. Granted Clark has expressed his preference for the centre half position but with the resources currently available to Giovanni Trapattoni, Clark at left back seems the most logical choice.
In contrast to Clark’s performance tonight the ninety minutes turned in by the entire Welsh side will surely give Gary Speed many sleepless nights. Wales were inept beyond belief; they reflected their current FIFA ranking of 116. When Speed took over the reins in December of last year he surely knew he was up against it. Wales are rooted to the bottom of Euro 2012 Qualification Group G with three defeats to show after three outings. Their next fixture is on the same night Ireland entertain Macedonia when top seeds England visit Cardiff. With zero points from nine one could argue that things can only get better for the Welsh, but on tonight’s evidence they could get a lot worse at the end of March in the Millennium Stadium. Wales were missing some key players, Bellamy, Bale and Ramsey to name three, but realistically they would need four or five more of similar quality to approach anything near competitive in their current qualifying group. Speed is contracted to take Wales up to the end of the qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. With their current seeding problem that campaign will leave Gary Speed looking a lot older than he should.
The game tonight started out with a rather drab first half which amounted to nothing more than shadow boxing between the two sides. When Ireland did flex their muscles and push Wales back onto the ropes it was usually via the flanks with the equally impressive Damien Duff and Seamus Coleman worrying Neal Eardley and Sam Ricketts.
The second half saw the hosts step it up a gear and expose Wales and all their deficiencies. John Walters, Duff and Shane Long wasted good opportunities to put Ireland ahead, Duff and substitute Long being particularly wasteful. Wales were finally floored on the hour mark when Darron Gibson unleashed a screamer of a shot from twenty yards after picking up the ball from his midfield partner Glen Whelan.  It was to get worse for Wales when Chris Gunter was inexcusably robbed of possession in his own penalty area in the 66th minute by Walters, the ball made its way to Duff and it was two nil. Wales’s Captain James Collins was incandescent with rage and promptly let the embarrassed Gunter know how he felt.
Collins still appeared to be glowing with rage sixteen minutes later when he unceremoniously upended Walters outside his own penalty area. The resultant free kick was superbly dispatched to the back of the net by substitute Keith Fahey. By now the rotund lady was practising her scales; she need not have waited so long.


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