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5 talking points from Ireland's unconvincing win over Gibraltar

The Boys in Green struggled amid difficult conditions against the lowest seeded team in Group D.

Ireland's Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy after the game.
Ireland's Seamus Coleman and Shane Duffy after the game.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

1. A win is a win?

In recent days, Mick McCarthy’s managerial prowess has often been compared to his predecessor, Martin O’Neill.

However, McCarthy’s first competitive match of his second spell in charge was more reminiscent of the Steve Staunton era, and specifically the time Ireland needed a last-minute goal to beat San Marino.

On that occasion, the embattled Staunton was ill-advisedly defiant afterwards, insisting a win was all that matters despite the deeply unconvincing manner of the performance.

Tonight’s match was similarly nervy and lacking in quality at times — Gibraltar would have taken an early second-half lead had it not been for the acrobatics of an alert Darren Randolph.

McCarthy, to his credit, did not try to put a overtly positive spin on the match, acknowledging afterwards that the performance had not been good enough.

There were a few positives, particularly the well-worked winning goal, but there is no doubt that a significant improvement is required as Ireland prepare for a stiffer test against Georgia on Tuesday.

2. Matt Doherty struggles to impress in unfamiliar role

Most people would agree that Matt Doherty has been the standout Irish performer at club level this season, showing scintillating form in the Premier League as part of an impressive Wolves side.

Nevertheless, despite occasionally linking up well with Seamus Coleman, the Dubliner was disappointing overall and he failed to replicate his excellent form at Wolves, who are on course for a top-seven finish.

However, perhaps it is no surprise on reflection that Doherty was not as eye-catching as he has been in England.

The 27-year-old is at his best storming forward on the counter-attack in the right wing-back role, exploiting the space in behind.

This evening, he was picked in an unfamiliar right-wing role against a side that routinely stuck 11 men behind the ball.

McCarthy admitted afterwards that the experiment of playing both Coleman and Doherty down the right failed to function as he would have hoped.

So how exactly the Barnsley native can get the best out of two of his most talented players is a question that remains unanswered.

3. Jeff Hendrick steps up to the plate

After emerging as one of Ireland’s key players at Euro 2016, Jeff Hendrick has received plenty of criticism since then for failing to maintain those levels.

This evening, it was not quite a vintage display from the Burnley midfielder, but the 27-year-old deserves credit for stepping up with a moment of class at a time when Ireland desperately needed a goal.

It was just Hendrick’s second goal at international level and the player acknowledged in a post-match interview with RTÉ that he has been disappointed with this underwhelming return.

“I touched on it two years ago, and then the next day I scored my first goal. Unfortunately I haven’t scored since then, but it was nice to get a goal today.

“People have been on to me all week to get in the box, use my presence, get on the end of balls. I tried to do that today and thankfully I got the goal.”

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In the Premier League, Hendrick has had a mixed season with a relegation-threatened Burnley outfit, often not completing 90 minutes for Sean Dyche’s men.

At his best though, he is capable of being a key player for this Ireland team, and both the player and McCarthy will hope today’s goal can serve as a springboard for better days to come with club and country.

4. Attacking woes continue

Ireland did at least score a goal against Gibraltar and now need just three more to equal their tally for the entirety of 2018, but a failure to do so would have been a catastrophe to rival the worst moments in the national team’s history.

Much had been made before the game of the Boys in Green’s limited attacking options, and there were times when the visitors struggled for creativity and composure in the final third amid difficult conditions.

Playing against a team largely made up of part-timers, Sean Maguire and David McGoldrick will have regarded today as a big opportunity to open their respective international accounts.

The fact that neither could find the net is reflective of the lack of confidence throughout the team currently, stemming from the depressing final days of the O’Neill era.

McGoldrick and Maguire both worked hard, and the Sheffield United striker did excellently in assisting the game’s only goal.

However, neither can be satisfied with their overall display or did too much to suggest they are the long-term solution to the country’s forward dilemma.

Maguire in particular will likely show more against sides that get bodies forward, as exploiting space on the counter-attack is one of his specialties.

However, not much came off for the former Cork City star this evening, and it was no surprise to see him withdrawn after 72 minutes, as Ireland ditched 4-4-2 and reverted to a 4-3-3 formation.

5. All eyes turn to Georgia

Despite beating them on all but one occasion, Ireland have struggled on many occasions against Georgia in the past and have needed good fortune in more than one instance to secure a victory against their dogged opponents.

There was little tonight to suggest Tuesday will be any different, and there is increasingly more a hope than expectation that the Boys in Green can grind out a victory against their improving rivals.

Like Ireland though, the Georgians will be going into the upcoming fixture in less-than-buoyant form, having been beaten 2-0 by top seeds Switzerland in Tbilisi today.

It will be interesting to see just how drastic the changes that McCarthy makes turn out to be following an underwhelming display at Victoria Stadium.

It would be a surprise if he persists with Doherty on the right wing, given his honest post-match assessment of the player’s performance today.

Harry Arter, who appeared off the bench this evening, could well start the match, given the greater levels of defensive work Ireland will certainly be required to perform for their second Group D fixture.

McCarthy may also opt to refrain from playing two up front, with the 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation that the team finished with a realistic alternative.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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