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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Laszlo Geczo/INPHO Michael Obafemi struggled to make an impact.
# Struggles
Michael Obafemi ends a year to remember with a performance to forget
Ireland striker has emerged as a focal point in attack but his lack of impact against Norway is a sign of development needed in his game.

MICHAEL OBAFEMI PRODUCED two of the best moments at Aviva Stadium for Ireland this year.

His long-range goals against Scotland and Armenia will live long in the memory – especially the thunderbolt when Steve Clarke’s beleaguered visitor in June.

The Swansea City striker may not have been able to add a third last night to sign off from international duty in Dublin with a hat-trick of highlights, but his contribution as a whole cannot be understated.

Obafemi has emerged this year as someone capable of delivering on the big occasion. That trait will most definitely be needed when the European Championship qualifiers begin in March.

France and the Netherlands will, of course, pose a challenge far more testing than anything that Obafemi has faced before in an Ireland jersey.

Being capable of staying switched on to capitalise on a split-second moment will, you feel, be crucial in such encounters.

Last night, though, his laboured display would have caused concern.

This was a performance to forget at the end of a year to remember, one in which he has become the focal point of Ireland’s attack.

Perhaps sporadic moments of top-class ability intertwined with frustrating all-round display are to be expected of a young striker who only turned 22 in July and is finding his feet in the Championship having initially come to prominence in the Premier League.

Only the best of the best deliver consistently, almost as a point of principle. Obafemi, for all his electric excitement, is not quite on that wavelength just yet.

So, it seems that for a bit of time to come Ireland are going to have to take the rough with the smooth.

But it wasn’t just the lack of a goal that was a worry against Norway, it was the absence of any kind of impact from Obafemi that stuck out.

An example came in the 16th minute. At this stage, the slow, methodical nature of Ireland’s passing in their build-up play could have been considered the kind of patient probing which so many teams in green down the years lacked.

As the seconds ticked by, though, it only added to a sense of drift. Obafemi, as Ireland’s most prominent attacker, epitomised that lack of urgency.

When Nathan Collins got the home crowd on their feet by driving down the right flank, vacating his spot on that side of the three-man defence to cause confusion, it appeared as if Ireland would at last finally get in behind a rigid, well-drilled defensive set-up.

Instead, the Wolverhampton Wanderers centre back got his head up on the run, saw that only Callum Robinson was in the penalty area and opted to halt his foray forward.

A wise head on young, impressionable shoulders.

Midfielder Alan Browne was making a late dash into the centre of the box but still nowhere near the danger zone, while Obafemi was even further out of the equation.

Despite having the momentum and more than enough space to cross, Collins realised a ball into the box was pointless given Norway’s numerical advantage.

So, he stopped in his tracks, turned towards his own goal and passed backwards to maintain possession.

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It allowed the visitors get set even more comfortably in their defensive shape, one which Ireland struggled to penetrate.

Maybe it’s harsh to point out at this stage that Obafemi has yet to score inside the box – two goals in seven games is hardly a sufficient timeframe to draw steadfast conclusions.

Picking holes and finding fault is not detrimental provided some form of progress is made.

That one moment in the 16th minute stood out because it was an example of the Ireland striker being static instead of anticipating an opportunity and having the gumption to try and attack space with no guarantee of getting on the end of anything.

Maybe the lack of chemistry and interplay between Obafemi and new strike partner Callum Robinson was a bigger issue than we realised and played into that malaise. They didn’t appear to cut across each other’s spaces, the latter preferring to drop deeper and try to link play wih the midfield.

Obafemi’s burgeoning relationship with Troy Parrott, one which seemed to blossom instantly against Scotland, wasn’t allowed to flourish further because of the injury suffered by the Tottenham Hotspur youngster while on loan with Preston North End this season.

Obafemi’s largely anonymous display shouldn’t be enough to tarnish the good work that has already come before.

It was simply a reminder that these kinds of performances are just as likely to be part of his repertoire as sublime match-winning salvos.

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