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Tactics Board: It's Robinson's movement that makes him such a key player for this Ireland team

Shane Keegan breaks down the first competitive win of the Stephen Kenny era.

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THE GROUP A table would have you believe this was a meaningless game. Try telling that to an Irish management team who were desperate for a first competitive victory.

“All the grand ambitions are meaningless if he can’t win games”. That’s a line we’ve heard a lot with lately, possibly with some merit.

This one was winnable. Just go and win it.

callum-robinson-and-anton-krivotsyuk Ireland's Callum Robinson and Anton Krivotsyuk of Azerbaijan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Kenny shakes up his attacking personnel again

Stephen Kenny set his side up in what is now a well-established 3-4-2-1 shape for this team. While Adam Idah was starting his fourth game in a row at centre forward, it is selection of the two players playing in behind him that has seen far more chopping and changing.

In the drawn game with Azerbaijan it was Troy Parrott and Aaron Connolly. That was followed up in our most recent game, at home to Serbia, by the pairing of Jamie McGrath and Alan Browne.

This time around it was to be two new men again, as Kenny selected Callum Robinson and Daryl Horgan for the roles.

Robinson’s movement and positioning wreaks havoc

Robinson, who had been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the previous week, produced what was in my opinion, the best individual performance of Kenny’s reign to date on Saturday evening.

He finished the game with following statistics: 8 shot attempts, 4 shots on target, 3 chances created, 5 successful dribbles and 100% pass completion rate in the final third; top of the pile in each of those metrics.

But the most impressive part of his performance, which doesn’t show up in those statistics, was his movement. Robinson was an absolute nightmare for the Azerbaijan defence to keep a hold off.

In theory, with both sides lining up in 3-4-3 formations, it would have been predominantly the role of the Azerbaijan’s left-sided centre-back Krivotsyuk to keep an eye on the West Brom attacker.

In reality though, Robinsons continuous vertical and lateral movements made it impossible for one man to track him.

Early promising signs

The signs that this could be a good evening for Robinson were there from the very first whistle.bInside the first minute he popped up over on the left-hand side to find space and almost managed to put Horgan and Idah through with a clever dinked pass over the top.

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Less than a minute later and he was picking up the ball in a central position and setting Horgan away down the left. Horgan drove inside and opted to shoot. Had he returned the favour and squared it back to Robinson, who had again found space, Ireland may have had an early lead.

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Opening goal

They didn’t have to wait long though and again it was all about Robinson’s intelligent movement.

Initially, he picks up Matt Doherty’s pass in a reasonably traditional position for the role he was playing, and this allows Anton Krivotsyuk to get tight to him.

A few seconds later though, as the play progresses, we see that Robinson has drifted into a more central position, making it impossible for Krivotsyuk to follow him.

He now becomes the responsibility of Azerbaijan’s centre midfielder Qara Qarayev but crucially Robinson is clever enough to stay in the space just behind him.

By the time Qarayev reacts to James McClean’s slide ball through, it’s too late for him to get goal side and Robinson finishes brilliantly on his weaker foot.

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Idah helps Robinson to flourish as he gets his second…

For such a young man, Idah has been very impressive since taking on the centre forwards role for his country. While his performance dipped a level on Saturday evening, his willingness to work the channels was crucial in allowing Robinson to play his role in the manner he did.

Here we see Idah pull wide right into a position that ordinarily you would expect Robinson to be in. This in turn allows Robinson to move into a deep central area again.

Idah plays a really good one-two with Doherty and crosses from the end line. With nobody again taking direct responsibility for Robinson he manages to find enough space to get a shot off that flies marginally over the cross bar.

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This interchangeability between Idah and Robison again proved useful in the lead up to Ireland’s second goal. As Doherty takes the throw, it’s Idah who shows down the line as Robinson moves central.

Ireland lose possession, then quickly regain it, and when Horgan lifts his head, it is Robinson who is darting in behind from a centre forwards position.

Robinson did the rest from there, with the help of some poor defending and goalkeeping, but it was his positioning from the original throw, and that of Idah, that allowed him to end up in a goalscoring position.

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…but the hat trick escapes him

The introduction of McGrath for Horgan at half-time saw Robinson swap over to the left but his eagerness to go wandering continued to pay dividends.

In the 55th minute, he came across to the right as Doherty was taking a throw and got on the ball to deliver pinpoint cross that Shane Duffy will be disappointed not to have headed home.

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Then, in the 57th minute of the game, Robinson had a fantastic opportunity to complete his hat-trick. Of course, given that he was now playing on the inside left channel, he did the damage on the inside right!

Again, it started with another Doherty throw as Robinson darts across from the left and down the right wing to receive the ball. In very similar circumstances to the build-up to his second goal, Ireland initially lose possession before quickly regaining it.

As Idah picks up the ball, Robinson, who has stayed on the right, is again in the space which has been created by overloading that side of the field. Following a neat combination with Doherty he finds himself through on goal for his best chance of the game, but this time the keeper denies him.

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If this version of Robinson was to stick around, then he could be set to becomes Ireland’s key player over the next year.

Conclusion

Ireland would go on to score a third goal late on through impressive substitute Chiedozie Ogbene. All in all, it was a comfortable victory in which their opponents threatened very little.

Remarkably, Ireland finished the game with only 37% possession. Whether or not this heralds the beginning of a new approach by Kenny’s side we will have to wait and see.

When you assess the two remaining competitive games, home to Portugal followed by away to Luxembourg, it’s fair to assume that they will require very different approaches — reactive in the first, proactive in the second.

It all makes for what should be a very intriguing conclusion to a qualifying campaign that could yet end in a far more positive manner than it began.

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