As Ireland slipped this week to number 60 in FIFA World rankings and the possibility arose that Noel King could remain on as interim boss for the two upcoming friendlies, decease Darragh Moriarty reviews Ireland’s final two games in the world cup qualifying campaign.
Noel King’s brief spell as interim manager saw his side entertain Kazakhstan at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday last. Following on from Ireland’s defeat in Cologne the previous Friday, pharm King looked to rejuvenate his team ahead of a clash where nothing but a win would do.
Ireland could not have had a worse start after a wonder-goal by Dimitry Shomko in the opening fifteen minutes. Ireland though, online who had controlled the game in the early exchanges, stayed calm and within three minutes of going behind Robbie Keane levelled from the spot after a daft handball from an Andy Reid set-piece. The jitters of going behind were fully out of the system after John O’Shea latched on to some poor goalkeeping to calmly claim his first international goal in ten years. Andrei Sidelnikov in the Kazakh net should have dealt better with Richard Dunne’s initial header from yet another Reid delivery. Ireland controlled what was left of the first-half from then on.
In the second half the game became somewhat of a dour affair, this was compounded by what looked like a serious injury for Darron Gibson. It later emerged that the Everton man suffered knee ligament damage which could see him miss a large chunk of the season. This seemed to resonate with many of the players as perhaps they realised with three-quarters of the season left to play they didn’t want to risk injury in a nothing game against Kazakhstan.
It wasn’t until Aiden McGeady’s introduction late on that the game took off again, a winger playing in his natural position proved to be too much for the Kazakhs to handle. His direct runs and surprisingly measured final ball led to an own goal. Robbie Keane stood in wait but a Kazakh touch forced the ball into the back of the net. The Tallaght man left cursing his luck as his fantastic international tally remained at sixty-one.
The game will go down as a comfortable, forgettable victory and nothing more. Noel King, a loyal FAI servant was given an opportunity over two games to promote himself and show the public what he can do as a manager. Instead, his brief rein in the hot-seat will be remembered for his assault on RTE’s ‘comedy panel.’ The prickly character looked as if he belonged in a pub row rather than in an interview as an international manager when he locked horns with RTE’s Tony O’Donoghue. The respected, longstanding football correspondent was well within his right to ask the manager why he saw fit to play strikers in wide positions.
In Cologne, we were beaten by a superior team that will go to Brazil next summer as one of the tournament favourites. There is absolutely no shame in losing that game. A deflected effort, a beautifully crafted finish and a late counter attack are goals that any team could have conceded. The problem with the game and indeed the Kazakhstan game was King’s team selection. He changed to the more conventional and continental 4-2-3-1 that Irish supporters were crying out for under a certain rigid Italian. But this alone is not enough. The right players have to be played in the right positions. Under Trapattoni we had Simon Cox on the wings and under King we had Glenn Whelan, Kevin Doyle and Anthony Stokes. In the space of four days he managed to frustrate Irish supporters as much as Trapattoni did during the whole qualifying campaign. McGeady made a huge difference last Tuesday as a late substitute, James McClean and Robbie Brady were all left watching from the bench in Cologne. The reintroduction of Gibson and Reid are positives going forward. Under a new manager Ireland will look for that deep-lying midfielder who can dictate the pace of the game. Both Reid and Gibson are players that can potentially fulfil that role.
The restoring of previously discarded players and the first phase implementation of the 4-2-3-1 system are the only positives that can be taken from the last two games. We are no closer to finding the personnel that will ultimately fit into that system and take Irish football forward into the next campaign. The next manager has it all to do.