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Analysis: Scotland's superior midfield makes the difference in game of fine margins

We take a closer look at Ireland’s 2-1 Nations League defeat at Hampden Park.

Cooney on Soccer Masthead

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Analysing Ireland v Scotland is pretty straightforward in one sense: it was a close-fought match in which Scotland took the few chances that fell their way and Ireland spurned theirs. 

Ireland remain a side somewhere in between the still-fraught discourse about their manager. They are not a reincarnation of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup team, but nor are they hopeless, feeble ideologue. The word that best sums Ireland up is methodical: they are now a well-structured side with clear patterns of attack, but are too often not clinical enough in taking the chances they create while remaining prone to collective defensive lapses. That’s a cocktail for the succession of draws and narrow defeats that have stained Kenny’s track record with Ireland. 

Kenny’s critics rightly say that he has been given plenty of time to evolve and learn on the job, but it’s to his credit that he has used it. The switch to a back three at the start of 2021 was crucial in arresting a run of dreadful results, while the big decision this year was to drop a forward and introduce an extra midfielder, making the 3-4-2-1 into a 3-5-2. 

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This has made Ireland much more solid – there are fewer instances of their getting sliced open through midfield now – while picking Michael Obafemi and putting another striker close beside him makes Ireland a very good counter-attacking team. It’s not the starry-eyed idealism of the early days of Kenny’s reign but, hey, it’s a results business. 

Being fortunate enough to have been in the press box at Hampden Park, I was struck by how often Josh Cullen called for Jason Knight and Jayson Molumby to play much tighter to him, closing off any passing angles to John McGinn….

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Gavin Cooney

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