Wes Hoolahan Is A Criminally Underappreciated Footballer
Overall I think it was a rather satisfactory opening match day for the home nations and Republic of Ireland, don’t you?
One loss and that against a very good Poland side where Robert Lewandowski was shackled well for the most part shows what I’ve said since before the tournament started.
The tournament may have been expanded, but anyone thinking that means 7-0 or 8-0 defeats that England gave to the likes of Turkey 35 years ago either hasn’t been watching much club football around Europe or doesn’t understand the passion and pride that brings out something a little bit extra playing for your country.
So lets look at the 3 home nations and Republic of Ireland moving forward.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? Journalists and fans alike were applauding England, their shape, getting Rooney into a game finally at this level, the early movement of Sterling and Lallana and how surely an avalanche of goals must flow.
After that late (very good header by the way) goal by Beresutski though, callers to Call Collymore used words like crap, poor, average and called for Sterling, Lallana and Rooney to be dropped! Talk about knee jerk!
I thought we played with a Premier League tempo mostly, and if we had have gone in at 4-0 in the interval, nobody on planet football would have complained, and although I hear those that say “but we weren’t 4-0 up Stan”, ask most coaches and players in a dressing room at half time what they would say after that performance, and the answer is clear.
KEEP PLAYING THAT WAY AND THE GOALS WILL COME. One did come of course, a cracking free kick from Dier but after that for me, Roy’s achilles heel was exposed, an unwillingness to go on, be ready and win by a comfy margin, he went for the pragmatic approach with subs rather than a Vardy, whose runs would probably have kept the Russian goalscorer on the half way line rather than up trying to equalise. Play the same way against Wales, England will win though, so from a performance perspective my glass is half full.
Super result, super free kick and off to a flier. I think Wales’ performance epitomised the word team and all that has become to be known about Welsh football in the qualifiers. Some suggested it was a journeyman team plus one world class player, well sorry, I beg to differ.
Ashley Williams has been a monster at the back for Wales for some time now, the equal of any defensive performer bar Bonnucci or Chiellini so far. The midfield is hard working but has the experience and know how which dictates that Bale needs support, so whether it be Jonny Williams, Ramsey or coming from the flanks, I thought Wales provided comfort for Bale that meant he felt he wasn’t picking up the ball on the half way line and needing to go on a Messi-like run to get something for Wales.
So that’s not journeymen there for the ride, that’s identifying and giving your top man support, completely different from saying, “There you go Gareth, do a Messi pal and we’ll sit on the edge of our box”.
Having said that, I think the potential for England to move the three Wales central defenders should be of concern, the first 30 minutes in Marseille showed that Sterling and Lallana, when given quick ball to turn defences, can hurt you quickly and often, so the Wales wing backs perhaps need to be a little more stay at home than they were against Slovakia. All in all though, a win almost guarantees next section football, so a great start for Wales.
It always was going to be a tough game, this is the best Poland side since Boniek and Co were strutting tenor stuff at World Cups in the 80s, they have technical ability, keep and manipulate the ball well and in Lewandowski, a genuine world class finisher, so for Northern Ireland, even with their impeccable recent record, it was always going to be tough.
Having said that, in the next game I’d like to see them embrace a more attacking strategy in parts. I thought against the Poles their rugged and well disciplined rear guard and protection for the back 4 was admirable, but I had the feeling through the game that it was adhering to a plan, rather than the gaffer and one or two players taking responsibility at times to shake things up, swap and change positions, and try to put Poland on the back foot.
This wasn’t a player quality or lack of it for me, it was seeing whether Northern Ireland were and will be prepared sometimes to say “sod it, we’re here, plan A isn’t working, lets be a little more adventurous”. I hope Dallas and Washington get starts in the next game, crikey, maybe even a Lafferty/Grigg with a 4-4-2 system perhaps.
Republic of Ireland
I thought Ireland were excellent in the first half against Sweden, to the point where you could hear the absolute frustration of my former boss Martin O’Neill pouring out post match.
“We were magnificent, we created chances, I’m extremely proud, etc etc” were just statements of fact from the gaffer, they were telling the players in the dressing room that although the result didn’t really go there way after such a promising 45 minutes, that sterner tests will come and to maintain their standards.
He knows that was 2 points dropped. The positives were the width the Irish showed from full back positions, Seamus Coleman (he only cost 60 grand you know…) and Robbie Brady have energy and real quality going forward, so with games against Italy (3 central defenders) and Belgium, I think the full backs again could be a huge weapon for the Irish going forward.
Up front, Shane Long needs support though. Jon Walters has an achilles knock, so maybe it’s the old warrior Robbie Keane who will use his mountain of experience to play just off Long and add a more cerebral approach to the Irish play which for me was missing in the second half. Someone to find little pockets, get hold of the ball and join play together, Keano does this and more, it’s just whether the legs will carry him for long enough.
If not, maybe trusting in goalscorer Wes Hoolahan could work, a criminally under appreciated footballer who’s clever on the ball, again finds those little areas to pick the ball up and do damage,
particularly on the counter where Ireland may find themselves a lot against a wounded Belgium and a surprisingly aggressive Italian side.