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Dublin: 8 °C Monday 20 January, 2020

'Lumping balls forward to O’Brien is not going to be the way forward for us'

Ray Houghton is frustrated with Ireland’s lack of creativity in the final third, with Martin O’Neill’s side without a goal in four games.

RAY HOUGHTON BELIEVES the biggest concern afflicting Ireland is a consistent lack of creativity in the final third, with the former midfielder having sympathy for strikers like Aiden O’Brien who he believes aren’t receiving adequate levels of service.

Martin O’Neill’s side earned a 0-0 draw in Aarhus last night, rounding off their debut Nations League campaign with a point on the road, but ultimately suffering relegation to the third tier.

The Boys in Green succeeded in earning a clean sheet in Ceres Park, but only enjoyed 30 per cent possession — while Age Hareide’s side created 25 chances to Ireland’s three.

Robbie Brady with Mathias Jorgensen Robbie Brady battles for possession with Mathias Jorgensen. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Houghton said O’Neill’s side had proven themselves to be dogged and resolute in defence with a back three of Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy and Kevin Long, but that the side’s much-discussed lack of goals was a serious concern.

“One thing we’ve seen over the last four games is that we can defend. It’s one goal we’ve conceded in those four matches,” he said speaking to RTÉ Sport.

I know we gave up a lot of chances last night, the Danes had 26 attempts at goal and only hit the target once, which was more about how wasteful they were. The lads got a lot of good blocks.

“But the worry is the lack of creativity. We’re not creating opportunities, we’re not a goal threat at the moment and we didn’t even have a shot on target in 90 minutes last night.

“So that’s got to be something the manager is looking at and how we’re going to improve upon that because it’s two-sided football.

Ray Houghton Houghton made 73 appearances for Ireland between 1986 and 1997. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“When we don’t have the ball we’re fine, we get back into shape, everyone’s working hard and you can’t fault their attitude and commitment. But it’s what we do when we’ve got the ball and that’s the worry at the moment.

There’s a lack of confidence, players don’t want to get on the ball, no-one’s being courageous to make things happen. Our strikers aren’t holding the ball up because they’re not getting much service and we’re not getting high up the field.”

The 56-year-old reflected that the players needed to shoulder their share of the responsibility for recent performances, which has seen Ireland go without a goal for four games in a row for the first time since 1996.

“When I’m watching the game I can tell who wants the ball and who doesn’t and players are making angles to receive it,” Houghton added. “What you want in football is options, the more options you have the easier it is for the player on the ball.

Kevin Long and Callum Robinson after the game Kevin Long and Callum Robinson pictured after full-time at Ceres Park. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We didn’t have that last night. We’ve got lads running around but what we need is a bit more structure when we’ve got the ball to get ourselves higher up the field.

“That’s down to the players, it’s not just down to the manager, confidence comes from within. As a player you’ve got to take responsibility, you’ve got to be big enough and brave enough to make things happen.

I’m sure they haven’t been doing things in training solely on defending.

“There is an attacking option as well that they should be looking at and it’s up to the players to go out that and try that as well.

“Just lumping balls forward to O’Brien is not going to be the way forward for us.”

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Aaron Gallagher

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