Monday, 30 May 2016

Pass the Dutchie

There were a lot more positives than negatives to be taken from what was a nice balmy early Summer evening at Lansdowne Road.  Although the match itself couldn't compare to the many classic big games we've had against the Dutch over the years (and nor can this current Dutch team compare to their previous sides for that matter), it was definitely a worthwhile exercise and there were signs that the momentum that has been building since the play off victory is still moving in the right direction.

The evening had started with a long stroll across the city, moving from the environs of a rapidly filling Croke Park through the city centre and IFSC and across to Lansdowne.  With the Bruce Springsteen gig on in Croker, town was absolutely mobbed with people making their way northside and traffic was at a standstill, so taxis weren't an option and we made the call to keep walking rather than jump on the DART at Connolly.  Once we got beyond the IFSC, the clothing of choice for those out walking on the street changed from Springsteen t-shirts to the familiar green shirts of various vintage and the pleasant weather was helping to add to a nice atmosphere.  After about 40 minutes walking we arrived at the Beggars and met up with those of the usual crew that were heading to the match.  With a few of the UK based lads missing due to the proximity of the trip to France, we had a smaller group than normal but there were still a good few of the YBIG crowd around including a few of the lads who'd been part of the fans team that had handed out a 6-0 trashing to the Dutch in the fans match that afternoon.  The talk was all about the arrangements for the next few weeks in France rather than the game itself and the chat only really turned to the match once the team was named an hour before kick off.  It was clear from the selection that Martin O'Neill was using this game as an opportunity to look at a few of the fringe players rather than give his first XI a run out, with the likes of Harry Arter and David McGoldrick who that had missed out on most of the campaign due to injury given chance to shine and Shane Duffy given an opportunity at centre half in Ciaran Clark's absence.  It was the right call in my opinion and I was looking forward in particular to seeing if Arter could reproduce some of the form he'd shown when he was fit in what had been a stop start season for him.

Having wet our whistles to an appropriate level, we left the Beggars and made our way down to the South Stand, although the utterly disproportionate search policy that the FAI are still insisting on enforcing at the turnstiles for the Singing Section meant that the game had kicked off a minute before we got to our usual spot.  And the excuse given by the stewards that the searches were to ensure no flares were brought into the ground simply doesn't wash.  The searches were only introduced after the protests and banners relating to John Delaney's behaviour occurred and it's clear that they're to prevent similar banners being unfurled again.  While we may have to get used to similar with the added security in France, the fact that it's only the Singing Section that is subject to this on entry to Lansdowne Road speaks volumes.

As for the game itself, we were set up in a diamond formation and I was surprised to see McGoldrick deployed in the hole, where Wes Hoolahan normally operates, rather than being given a opportunity to see what he could do up front. We struggled initially to get a hold of the ball as the Dutch dominated possession without ever threatening our goal.  To be fair, it was probably no harm to have a spell where we had to play without the ball as there'll undoubtedly be plenty of that during the Euros and the defence was acquitting itself very well and looked comfortable with Duffy and O'Shea looking solid.  Around 15 minutes in, we started getting on the ball a bit more and immediately looked more threatening with our possession than the Dutch had with theirs.  On around 20 minutes Arter tried his luck but a deflection took the ball through to Cillessen in the Dutch goal. Shane Long was looking dangerous and broke through a minute later only to be crudely chopped down by Bruma. The length of time Long stayed down for caused a bit of concern in the crowd so it was a relief to see it was only a gash on his knee that had re-opened.  I thought that Randolph seemed to be limping a bit as well at that stage of the game but that may well have just been my paranoia kicking in this close to the finals!

The pressure was starting to build by this point and we were rewarded just before the half hour mark.  McGoldrick played a nice diagonal ball over to Seamus Coleman who had bombed forward on the right.  Although his cross was blocked behind for a corner, Robbie Brady's consistently improving dead ball delivery means that set pieces have become a vital weapon in our armoury and so it proved as he delivered a great in swinging ball onto O'Shea's head.  The header looked goal bound but was kept out by a combination of the keeper and what could have been a handball from Janssen. O'Shea's shout for a penalty was cut short though as Long was first to react and stabbed home the rebound!  It was actually great to see Long get what was a poachers goal and the sort that you'd normally associate more with Robbie Keane. Adding that type of poaching to his game can only benefit us in the future and seeing how he finished the season and brought that form to the table on Friday is encouraging for France and he simply has to stay fit and start.

Take the Long way round!
The goal was the catalyst for our best spells of the game on either side of half time.  Arter began to get on the ball in a more controlled fashion and looked very tidy with it, bar on one occasion when he was thinking too far ahead and allowed a simple pass to roll out under his foot for a throw.  He hadn't entirely left his aggression behind mind you and was rightly booked on about 40 minutes for absolutely clattering Memphis Depay.  Some of his tackles were a bit similar to what James McClean can do when he's hyped up and both will need to manage that aspect of their games if they're going to make an impression in France.

I expected Long to be withdrawn and wrapped in cotton wool at half time so was surprised to see the same XI come out for the second half.  And the half itself started in the same manner that the first had finished with Ireland on the front foot.  Another couple of good Brady set piece deliveries saw Walters, Duffy and Long all miss with headers but again the quality of the set plays was encouraging and it looks likely that Brady will start at left back rather than further up the pitch in France. We stayed in the ascendancy up until the hour mark when, as expected in international friendlies, the usual plethora of substitutions began.  Just before the changes, McGoldrick played what looked like a loose ball for Long but Long's pace nearly turned it into a good one as he gave Bruma a fright before the Dutch defender hooked a leg across to put the ball out of play.  That was Long's last input as McClean, Hendrick and Gibson then came on for himself, Quinn and Whelan. I expected McGoldrick to move up front into Long's position but O'Neill has been making noises about McClean having the ability to play centre forward and obviously wanted to have a look at him there so McGoldrick remained playing deep until he was also replaced by Hoolahan with about 15 minutes to go.  The last substitution of the night followed shortly after with the impressive Arter replaced by his club mate Eunan O'Kane.

The intensity of the game had dropped significantly at this point with a couple of Mexican waves occupying the crowd more than the action on the pitch.  Another set piece on 80 minutes just before the final change really should have resulted in a second goal only for Duffy to glance his header wide.  And ultimately that was to cost us on 84 minutes as Willems put in an excellent cross which caused a bit of confusion between Randolph and Duffy resulting in a free header for De Jong which he duly converted.  A late rally to try and regain the lead followed  but there was only a scuffed shot to O'Kane to show for it and then one last corner for Holland which Randolph comfortably cleared before the ref blew up for full time.

Sun setting on the Dublin campaign

So, as I said at the start, it was generally an encouraging night for Ireland. The team said farewell to Dublin as the sun was setting at Lansdowne with one last friendly down in Cork to follow, a Belarus team soundly beaten 3-0 by Northern Ireland in Belfast the sane time we were playing Holland.  Harry Arter has surely played his way into the squad, barring injury, although I am hearing that he'll miss the Belarus game and go for a scan on his thigh tomorrow.  He has been managing an achilles injury for the last number of months and been treated with injections when it's most likely that surgery will be needed to clear up the problem.  Management of injuries in that way can often result in other niggles flaring up so hopefully the scan will bring good news although there has to be a doubt that he can manage a 3 or 4 week tournament, which may count against him when Martin O'Neill finalises his squad on Tuesday night. We didn't have a chance to look at McGoldrick up front but there was possibly enough in his performance in the hole to suggest that he may make the plane as a back up for Hoolahan. I don't think it's likely though.  Stephen Quinn may not have done enough for me and ditto for Darren Gibson in his limited gametime.  Ultimately some of these players may be dependent on injuries to others to make the final 23.  Bar his late slip up, Shane Duffy gave a commanding performance and should travel and John O'Shea may have played himself back into the team although I had been leaning towards a centre half partnership of Richard Keogh and Ciaran Clark as my preference.  Kieren Westwood and David Forde have joined up with the squad now following their losing involvement in the Championship and League One play offs respectively over the weekend.  If either gets a run tomorrow that should indicate who will be staying at home.  For me, Westwood should get the nod but O'Neill definitely seems to have issues with him going back to their Sunderland days so that one is by no means certain.  For interest, I've picked my own preferred squad below with any player in brackets showing where I think O'Neill may differ.  Only two weeks to go to our opener now and I think that once the squad is finalised the excitement will really start to build!

Darren Randolph
Shay Given
Kieren Westwood (David Forde)

Seamus Coleman
Cyrus Christie
Richard Keogh
Ciaran Clark
John O'Shea
Shane Duffy
Robbie Brady
Stephen Ward

Glenn Whelan
James McCarthy
Jeff Hendrick
Wes Hoolahan
Harry Arter (Stephen Quinn is probably the only man who can keep him out, barring injury, but I think O'Neill wants Arter there which will be tough on Quinn)
James McClean
David Meyler (I'd give serious consideration to David McGoldrick in midfield but think Meyler's involvement in the qualifiers means he probably deserves a spot)
Aiden McGeady

Jon Walters
Shane Long
David McGoldrick (Daryl Murphy will be picked by O'Neill and the fact that McGoldrick didn't get game time up front on Friday shows that O'Neill isn't really considering him as an option.  The tournament is a bridge too far for Kevin Doyle who's been a great servant)
Robbie Keane (Word coming through as I write that's he's picked up an injury and will miss the Belarus game which may re-open the door for Kevin Doyle)