IRELAND CONTINUED THEIR encouraging start to the Martin O’Neill era with a solid performance and a scoreless draw in Poznan’s Municipal Stadium on Tuesday night.
Without a handful of regular starters, Ireland returned to the stadium where they performed so disastrously in Euro 2012, and proved that they have the makings of a squad to challenge for a place at Euro 2016.
Some 31,094 fans packed Lech Poznan’s stadium, and over 30,900 home fans spontaneously applauded the Irish national anthem — but whistles greeted their toothless team at the final whistle, after a night that saw few clear cut opportunities created.
True to his word, O’Neill made widespread changes to his lineup, with just four players starting that kicked off the game with Latvia; defenders Marc Wilson and Stephen Ward, midfielder James McCarthy and winger Aiden McGeady.
Jon Walters deputised as skipper on the wing, Paul Green took Glenn Whelan’s place in midfield, Shane Long and Anthony Stokes were given their chance to impress up front in Robbie Keane’s absence, while Sean St Ledger, Stephen Kelly and David Forde took their places in a rearranged defence.
In the home dugout, Adam Nawalka was also in charge of his country for just the second time, having presided over a 2-0 home loss to Slovakia in Wroclaw on Friday night.
For different reasons, he also made seven changes to the starting lineup, but Borussia Dortmund duo Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczkowski were retained, with much of the blame placed on the underperforming defence for Friday’s defeat.
But Poland have now failed to score in any of their last four games and in truth, Ireland created the best chances.
The visitors began encouragingly, with Aiden McGeady once more the danger man for the men in green, his attacking instincts restored under O’Neill’s charge.
And while Shay Given had picked the ball out of the net by the third minute in his first game here last summer, David Forde only touched the ball twice in the opening 20 minutes with Lewandowski well marshalled by Ireland’s defence and the deep lying Paul Green.
Kelly had the best chance of the half, but he sent his header downward, after a good flick by Walters, and the ball bounced high to safety over Wojciech Szczesny’s bar.
At the other end, it was relatively comfortable, with Stephen Ward doing well to clear the most dangerous cross of the half, when he nipped in front of Lewandowski to nod clear.
Sean St Ledger’s game ended prematurely when he was forced off injured after just 32 minutes, having started a game for the first time since August, and replaced by John O’Shea.
The sides went in scoreless at the break, but Blaszczykowski had Poland’s best chance of the game just seconds after the restart but his weaving run through the Ireland defence was halted yards from goal by Kelly.
Ireland manager Martin O’Neill and assistant manager Roy Keane at the final whistle. Pic: INPHO/Donall Farmer
The game stretched, and while Shane Long and Anthony Stokes both had chances to test Szczesny early on, neither tested the Arsenal goalkeeper, while Forde made an easy save from Lukas Szukala’s headed effort at the other end.
Nobody was in position to finish James McClean’s cross into the six yard box, the best opportunity of the half, and the final whistle came without either goalkeeper tested seriously.