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Slovakia V Ireland Preview

Well it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped for Ireland after a miserable first hour on Friday, followed by a spirited comeback that just fell short. A 3-2 defeat in Russia wouldn’t have been a disastrous result, but defeat at home with trips to Russia and Slovakia to come makes things seem that bit harder.


Aiden McGeady looks a dejected figure on Friday night


It had all started so well. Slovakia’s surprise defeat to Armenia meant Ireland went into the game in the best possible position with all the pressure on Russia. An early goalmouth scramble almost had Ireland in front, it ended with McGeady dragging a shot wide. Had it gone in there’s no telling what might have happened, with Russian heads bowed.

As it was, the tactics were awful. Ireland played what seemed to be at times a 6-2-1-1 formation and that Doyle picked up an injury was no surprise. Not only because the ‘tactics’ seemed to be lump it at Doyle and see what happens, but also because the Russian defenders got away with over-zealous challenges from behind time and again. They managed to disrupt any forward momentum without attracting the referee’s attention too much.


Keane attempts to rally the troops


The main problem stems from playing Whelan (what was he playing at for Russia’s first goal?) and Green together in midfield. Trapattoni has received a lot of criticism for his game plan on Friday and a lot of it is justified. However we have a weaker squad now than we have for many years.  Whelan and Green are perfect examples. One plies his trade with Derby in the Championship, the other is a bit part player for Stoke.

The centre of midfield was a crucial part of Friday’s game. The dangerous Russian forwards needed to be starved of service, forcing them to drop deeper and deeper to pick up the ball and relieving pressure on Ireland’s defence. As it was, Russia swarmed through midfield to attack seamlessly, with Green and Whelan afraid to go forward for fear of getting caught on the break.

This meant the Ireland central midfield was dangerously close to the defence leaving 30% of the pitch for the Russians to swarm through at pace while Ireland resorted to long-ball tactics. With genuine ball players, Russia found the going easy, and in truth 3-2 flattered Ireland, particularly as Robbie Keane’s penalty was a questionable one to get Ireland back into the game at 3-1.


Dunne was scathing in his criticism of the tactics employed on Friday


Richard Dunne’s assessment was absolutely spot-on: We didn’t close them down and our only game plan seemed to be hitting it long. When that didn’t work, we didn’t have an answer. We were not brave enough to have confidence in passing the ball. Going long is the easy way out for some people and it is never going to be good enough.

Aiden McGeady is slowly improving. His final ball was occasionally lacking as always, but he seemed to have a greater purpose to his attacking efforts, even shooting once or twice when he realised the Russian goalkeeper had a bizarre policy of palming away anything that came his way, no matter how tame the effort.

Tomorrow is the turn of Slovakia and one positive to take away from Friday’s game is that the two goals Ireland scored will have them in a different mindset going into the game, than a three or four goal defeat. At least Ireland left the game on a more positive note, but they have to get something from tomorrow night’s game.

Slovakia are a decent team. They proved it at the World Cup when they knocked out Italy and they proved it against Russia last month in a famous away win. However they clearly blow hot and cold and by all accounts were well beaten by Armenia on Friday night. With big players potentially missing from the first team, the Slovakians are in a similar position to Ireland in that they may be relying on weaker players in reserve in what is a crucial game for both teams.

Team News:

Ireland are without Damien Duff and Kevin Doyle meaning Aiden McGeady will continue with Liam Lawrence on the wings. Up front, Reading’s Shane Long will battle it out with Andy Keogh for a starting role, with the Wolves man likely to get the nod.

Slovakia have big problems of their own however, with forward Robert Vittek  injured, while Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel will be serving a ban thanks after getting his second booking of the campaign last Friday evening. Most importantly for Ireland, playmaker Miroslav Stoch, could miss out after picking up an injury in the Armenia defeat.

Man to watch: Robbie Keane

Keane needs a big game tomorrow night. Reduced to appealing in vain for any sort of offence against Russian defenders, Keane needs t show why he is captain tomorrow night with a big performance. Ireland are lacking in creativity and spark. Time for Keane to get at a weakened Slovakia defence.

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