We're still in the hunt, just.
Another 2 points dropped but given the context, namely staring down the barrel of a home loss going into injury time, we’ll take it with both hands. There is also the small matter of a decent performance in front of a generally ecstatic home crowd which meant that for once there was a feeling of satisfaction as we walked away from the Aviva stadium. As with all Irish games however there was plenty of frustration to go with the enjoyable moments. The first preventable mistake, which almost proved fatal, came early and courtesy of the mostly sound (at least when compared to our other left back option Stephen Ward) Robbie Brady. His 26-minute carefree dalliance on the ball, followed by a slip by Mark Wilson and compounded by an acute angled thunderbolt from Peszko led to the opening goal from Poland. It was a devastating start and could have spelled the beginning of a torrid evening for Brady and Ireland but the team recovered and by the second half the Boys in Green were completely in control of the game.
With Shay Given, surprisingly replacing the unloved David Forde, having little or nothing to do for most of the game the impetus was very much with Ireland and while our threat in front of goal was at times ponderous Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski was kept busy. The main thrust of the Irish momentum arrived in the second half and produced a couple of great chances. Ireland first came close to scoring from a fortuitous 52-minute cross by Brady which took a deflection before bouncing off the Polish post. Robbie Keane harried and ran his socks off to little effect but he produced a great save from the Swansea clubman (with some help from the still shaking goalpost) after nodding down from James McClean’s cross. Seamus Coleman also had a great opportunity to level matters on 81 minutes after a dangerous in-swinging cross from the lively and effective James McClean arrived at his feet only for the Everton defender to blaze over from 8 yards. It was rare aberration given the Donegal man’s dependable accuracy from inside and outside the box.
The Irish goal eventually came just as the 4th official had signaled an additional 5 minutes injury time. This was met with a huge cheer from the home crowd, as was Fabianski’s scuffed punch that saw the ball go out for a corner. Like much of the crossing on the night the resultant corner missed its intended lofty targets, instead falling at the short frame of Wes Hoolahan who nodded the ball back to the onrushing Shane Long. With the Tipperary striker controlling the ball cleanly and almost uncharacteristically striding confidently forward it seemed like an eternity before his shot bounced over the line. From our position high up in the stands it looked as if Long had cleverly dinked the ball over the Polish keeper but replays showed a deflection that deceived the net-minder. The breakthrough was greeted with customary pandemonium apart from the generous sections of Polish support who had up to that point given an exhibition in fantastic away support. This was a draw which Ireland deserved and though it puts the pressure on the Boys in Green to secure all 3 points against Scotland in June it still leaves us with our destiny in our own hands.
How They Lined Up
Irish Player Ratings (out of 10)
Shay Given 7
Given had little to do all game and while there were suggestions he could have done more for the Polish goal that would seem a little harsh. Once again his distribution and nervousness with the ball on the ground made for some hairy moments but overall it was a solid outing for Villa’s second choice keeper. That said poor David Forde must be scratching his head wondering how he has lost the place.
Seamus Coleman 6
Coleman’s strength is quite obviously in his forward charges but he still looks a bit shaky in a defensive capacity. In what was not his greatest game for Ireland and he had a superb chance in the 2nd half to turn the game on its head but his wayward shot in the Polish box was unbecoming of one of the Premiership’s top scoring defenders.
John O’Shea 8
Sheasy’s current rocky patch back at his club Sunderland didn’t bode well especially given that he would be facing one of Europe’s most lethal strikers in Robert Lewandowski. As it turned out the Waterford man was a rock at the heart of the defence with his reading of the game and in particular his headed clearances notable throughout. He continues to be one of our most consistent performers in this campaign.
Marc Wilson 7
Partly at fault for the Polish goal the Stoke defender did his job quietly for the rest of the night with the Polish strikeforce hardly got a sniff. It’s a shame that Wilson didn’t offer anything offensively but he is now firmly established in our back four.
Robbie Brady 6
Given the delights of his USA performance much was expected of the Dubliner. His unfamiliarity at left back and his bizarre hole dissension injury with Hull probably didn’t help him but Brady will need to learn that faffing about at the back is a definite no-no at this level. With his crossing unusually off the mark Robbie still offers much more than our other choice at left back. Hopefully O’Neill sticks with him for the June games.
Glenn Whelan 7
If the Scotland game in Celtic Park thought us anything it’s that we need Glenn Whelan as defensive cover. He might be averse to forward passes but Whelan rarely lets the team down and his interceptions and harrying are an important buffer often overlooked by the Irish support.
James McCarthy 7
Could this be the game where the real James McCarthy stood up to the plate? He was certainly tidy albeit slightly anonymous in the first half but following the break and as the second half wore on McCarthy made several drives through the midfield towards the opposition defence and it was exhilarating. More of 2nd half James McCarthy please.
Aidan McGeady 5
The Everton winger was clearly not fully fit and given his lowly appearance rate with his club Everton it was probably no surprise that little worked for the diminutive bag of tricks. As always McGeady produced flashes of genius but his end product on this occasion was almost universally poor.
Wes Hoolahan 7
You know what you are going to get with Wes and there is no doubt that he should be a regular by now. This performance was as eye-catching as ever, included a headed assist for Ireland’s goal, but there was a scattering of mistakes that will fuel his detractors less than complimentary impression of him.
Jonathan Walters 6
While you can never fault Walters desire and appetite for pushing himself to the very limit this was one of his lesser performances. His broken face, held together by transparent plastic mask, might have been occupying his thoughts but he was never seen to shirk a challenge. That said we could do with hitting the net with a bit more regularity.
Robbie Keane 6
It was hard to fault the 34-year-old’s dedication to the task but for most of the time Robbie looked short of the pace. That said he was responsible for one of Ireland’s best chances when his fine header needed a combination of keeper and post to prevent a goal.
James McClean 8
This was probably the Derry man’s finest performance in an Irish shirt as he played with passion, strength and no little skill for the short time he was on. But it will be his uncompromising tackle on Polish striker Milik that will be most fondly remembered.
Shane Long 8
The Southampton striker cuts a frustrating figure at times but with 12 goals to his Ireland career to date he is an important part of Martin O’Neill’s plans. And his injury time equaliser is probably one of the most vital goals of his career when in a crowded box he had the composure to give his team a fighting chance of making Euro 2016.
Martin O’Neill 7
Martin O’Neill must be praised for his bold selections of Robbie Brady at left back and Wes Hoolahan finally given a full competitive game to woo the home ground. There have to be question marks over Robbie Keane’s choice as frontman however as Shane Long appears to have enough in his locker to trouble middle ranked teams such as Poland. To his credit O’Neill did make the changes and with James McClean making a huge impression we might just have in him the ammunition to turn games that might otherwise slip away from us.
- Author: Kevin Dunphy