Our 0-0 draw with Wales may have seemed like a bit of a downer, but let’s take a step back and think about it.
In short, Ireland picking up a point against a top seeded team that reach the quarter finals of the European Championships is a great result.
First and foremost, Ireland had a squad hindered by absentees with Brady (suspension), Hoolahan (injury), McCarthy (injury), PUPcast Hall of Famer Arter (injury), Clarke (injury) and Duffy (injury) all possible starters that were unavailable. Ireland were left to play John O’Shea and Richard Keogh as the centre back pairing with Seamus Coleman and Stephen Ward acting as fullbacks. Hendrick, Whelan and last minute additon Myler occupied the midfield with McClean and Walters out wide feeding lone striker Shane Long up top. On paper, this was perhaps Ireland’s strongest XI, though in practice the system doesn’t really work.
Ireland need the likes of Wes Hoolihan or Harry Arter to control the game and to panic defenders into stepping out of position if they are to play with one up front. Shane Long is far too often used as a target man and, though he can make a nuisance of himself, is no Niall Quinn and when there is no man behind him waiting for the knock-down the approach is pointless. With a player like Hoolihan or Arter in the team it allows Long to run through the middle which then forces the fullbacks to narrow and therefore allowing space for the wide players in behind. Instead, Ireland punt the ball 40 yards in hope.
However, considering our limitations against Wales, Ireland actually did quite well. We nullified one of Europes’s (supposedly) top sides. Until the sending off, Ireland were on the back foot but also never really looked in danger of conceding. After the full-time whistle there were disappointed sighs around the country but, in truth, Ireland are in a stupidly strong position. This was always going to be a difficult game, particularly with the lack of a ball playing midfielder to really control the game, but O’Neill’s side proved that they can weather the storm when their backs are to the wall. Something I feel will carry them through to Russia. And, OK, we can say we should have won it in the last 10 minutes but when you consider the lack of attacking options it is a fair result.
This result leaves us in a very strong position and we almost have one foot in the World Cup group stages. We are currently battling with Serbia, Austria and Wales in the group for the top 2 positions. At the time of writing Serbia and Ireland stand joint top of the table with 11 points and Austria and Wales on 7 points each. The positive for Ireland is that we have just taken a point of the European semi-finalists despite a depleted squad. Of course, Coleman will be a massive loss for the rest of the campaign, but Wales’ loss of their talisman Bale against rivals Serbia and with Taylor being suspended for a number of games it is easy to see the Welsh dropping points. All of us at the PUPcast wish Seamus a speedy recovery after that horrific tackle.
Of course, Austria are difficult to rule out right now but,similarly to Wales, have struggled to find any sort of form since the Euros. They look like a shell of a team and having had a disappointing Euros look like a team low on confidence and belief. The Irish are the only team in the group to have taken their strong summer form forward and with rivals Austria and Serbia both still to visit Dublin, we can be optimistic that Ireland’s home form can continue to produce positive results.
If so, the Boys in Green’s final game of the qualifying campaign away to Wales may not be the decisive clash that many expect.