By Ger McCarthy
Another lapse of concentration costs Ireland
The concession of a sloppy Martin Hinteregger goal in the opening half of a 1-1 draw at home to Austria, poor defending to allow Valeri Qazaishvili level matters away to Georgia and Jon Walters letting Aleksandar Kolarov slip by to score for Serbia.
Three defensive lapses at critical junctures of the Republic of Ireland’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign that have cost Martin O’Neill’s side dearly.
In such a close group, where the top two positions were unlikely to be decided until the final round of games, Ireland’s tendency to mentally switch off could yet deny them the opportunity to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
Dropping Whelan was the right decision
Irrespective of last night’s result, Martin O’Neill’s decision to drop Glenn Whelan and restructure his midfield into a diamond shape was the correct move.
Ireland’s pitiful display away to Georgia meant something had to change. A quartet of Wes Hoolahan, David Meyler, Robbie Brady and James McClean gave O’Neill’s side a more solid look, allowing Jon Walters push forward to partner Shane Long.
Looking to the future, Jeff Hendrick, Harry Arter or Conor Hourihane’s potential inclusions offer additional options in an area of the pitch that has lacked creativity for far too long.
It will all come down to Cardiff
Wales’ victory in Moldova coupled with Ireland’s first qualification defeat means the runner-up berth in UEFA Group D will most likely not be decided until the two nations clash in Cardiff on October 9th.
Many Irish supporters might have settled for that outcome at the beginning of the campaign but there can be no denying that momentum is with Wales thanks to the emergence of Ben Woodburn and presence of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale.
Some pride restored despite the outcome
Having been rightfully criticised for their appalling performance in Tbilisi, Martin O’Neill and the Irish players restored pride in the Irish jersey with a much improved display against Serbia.
‘Night and day’ was the Irish Examiner and RTE studio pundit Liam Brady’s assessment of Ireland’s first half performance.
There was a better attitude and purpose to Ireland’s setup, resulting in spells of positive approach play completely absent from their previous outing.
Restoring Wes Hoolahan to the starting eleven gave the Irish team a spark of invention and begs the question why O’Neill does not utilise the midfielder’s talents on a more regular basis.
Duffy and Clark are Ireland’s first choice defenders
Brighton’s Shane Duffy and Newcastle’s Ciaran Clark have solidified their status as the Republic Ireland’s first choice central defensive partnership during the current campaign.
Both players further enhanced their reputations with workmanlike rather than spectacular displays against an in-form Serbian attack.
Duffy, in particular, continues to shine in the heart of Ireland’s back four and demonstrated his attacking capabilities by having a goal ruled out for offside in the opening half. Neither Duffy nor Clark was at fault for Aleksandar Kolarov’s goal.