Saturday, March 26, 2011

Midfield Central to Trapattoni’s Task

If the Republic of Ireland are to progress from Group B and qualify for 2012 European Championship the future composition of the middle of midfield will be central.
This may appear obvious but five games into the qualifying campaign the Irish central midfield is still the most erratic and inconsistent area of the team. Central midfield appears to have become the soft underbelly of the Irish side.
On a night when the Republic of Ireland can feel quite lucky to take three points from the visit of Macedonia to the Aviva Stadium, central midfield again was the big disappointment of the night. The ever present Glen Whelan was accompanied by Darron Gibson for tonights game. Neither can be fully satisfied with their performance. Gibson had a shaky start giving the ball away cheaply on far too many occasions. For a player who would cite his delivery of the ball rather than his defensive qualities as a strength, this produced many groans of frustration from the punters who paid into the Aviva tonight. Glen Whelan who is mainly picked for the cover he gives the back four didn’t exactly shine in his aspect, and like Gibson wasn’t shy about picking out a Macedonia with the odd pass or two.
In what is the most important part of the field for any side you would feel that the current midfield partnership puts somewhat of a glass ceiling on any future achievement for the Republic of Ireland. The home side’s failure to keep the ball only served to hand possession to the Macedonians far too often tonight. Ireland in fact appeared content to sit back and let the visitors pass the ball in front of them. Macedonia may not be world beaters but they have enough competent players that were going to do something sooner or later with the amount of possession that they enjoyed. That sooner or later arrived in the 45th minute when Ivan Trickovski sent a classy finish beyond Kieren Westwood, this followed some good work by his captain Goran Pandev. Happily for the hosts though this goal was preceded by two earlier Irish strikes. After only ninety seconds Aiden McGeady cut in from the left and let fly on his preferred right foot. Macedonian goalkeeper Edin Nuredinovski won’t be happy with his part in McGeadys opener. Robbie Keane too sensed the Macedonian keeper was not having a good night as he was on his toes as Gibson struck a 21st minute free kick at the visitors goal. The strike was very central and shouldn’t have proved too troublesome but Nuredinovski spilled it and Keane was on hand to punish the visiting keeper.
It wasn’t until the 77th minute when Giovanni Trapattoni changed things in the Irish midfield. Gibson was withdrawn for Keith Fahey. The Birminham City man seemed to have an immediate effect, passes were sticking, like Gibson he was showing for the option when his team mates needed someone to pass to, unlike Gibson though Ireland were more likely to retain possession if he was used as the option. Fahey only spent 13 minutes plus added time on the field tonight, but it is not too much of a stretch to assert that in that short space of time he provided more stability to the Irish midfield than Gibson did in the 77 minutes he spent roaming around the patchy surface of the Aviva Stadium.
One wonders if the James McCarthy ‘allegiance’ to-do of recent times hadn’t been whether he would have got the nod or not to take to the field in the 87thminute. In the five or so minutes he spent on the field he had a very positive effect on proceedings. It may seem like a basic requirement of a central midfielder but he could take a pass and give a pass, keep things moving and most importantly keep the ball at the feet of an Irish player.
Other results in group B earlier today certainly gave a boost to the qualification hopes of the Republic of Ireland but if that qualification is to be secured surely the middle of midfield has to addressed. After the game Trapattoni defended his system and insisted that it wouldn’t change. That is fair enough but for an allegedly ‘negative’ system Ireland have a nasty habit of conceding goals, six so far in five qualifying games. Systems aside it is players that will secure qualification. The players so far selected in the centre of midfield have done little to instil confidence that they can provide the goods to navigate this Irish side through the challenges remaining in this group. Huge challenges like the visit to Skopje and Moscow await. 


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