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comment We are talking Serbia up as if they are a major nation. They’re not and a moral victory isn’t good enough

Luxembourg game is must-win but Kenny lacks players to fit his system


Jayson Molumby of Republic of Ireland battles for possession with Dusan Tadic of Serbia

Jayson Molumby of Republic of Ireland battles for possession with Dusan Tadic of Serbia

Jayson Molumby of Republic of Ireland battles for possession with Dusan Tadic of Serbia

What we saw from Ireland against Serbia on Wednesday was alright.

But “alright” is not good enough in a World Cup qualifier and no matter how good the performance was, it was another defeat and we can’t take any more moral victories.

You can’t keep taking positives out of defeats, it’s all about getting results and the team didn’t manage that.

We just didn’t have that quality in the final third, and the team needs to improve, hopefully starting Saturday night at home to Luxembourg.

Individual performances give us hope and we understand that we have good players, but I’m still concerned about whether we have the players to play the way this manager wants, to build up slowly and play through midfield.

It’s not all doom and gloom with Ireland, the team weren’t wiped off the park by Serbia in Belgrade, they had good possession. But they just didn’t have the creativity to cause them trouble - I feared once Ireland took the lead that it would just wake Serbia up and that’s how it turned out.

I also think we are in danger of talking Serbia up too much, as if they are one of the major nations. They’re not, they’ve struggled any time they went to a major finals in the last 20 years - Scotland beat them last year and we wouldn’t fear Scotland.

If you are hoping to qualify for a World Cup you can’t lose to a team who are your rivals for second place and then chalk it up as a moral victory. Losing so early puts added pressure on the rest of the group games.

Individually, the players did fine but when we scored we went into our shell and Serbia came to life at the same time, we sat back and lost the composure that had been there until then. It worked ok as a formation for 40 minutes, but not over the whole game.

As a defender I tend to look at how the defenders play, and while there was criticism of Ciarán Clark, I didn’t think he was awful. The third goal Serbia scored was a difficult one to defend and it was more of a communication issue between Ciarán and Enda Stevens than anything else. It’s harsh to blame Clark for that.

I also try to look at what went before, and while the two defenders were exposed for that third goal, there was no pressure from midfield to pick up Dusan Tadic before he floated in that ball.

Tadic showed that he’s the most dangerous player Serbia have, so if you stop him, you cut off their supply to the front players. But he was left with too much time and space to really enjoy that No 10 role and just pick out the things he wanted to do in the game. Good players will punish you and that’s what Tadic did.

When you play a back three, you shouldn’t concede a goal down the middle of the pitch, it should always be from out wide, so that first goal is a big disappointment. I know if I’d played in a three-man defence like that, I’d be annoyed to concede that first goal.

I’d see Serbia and Ireland as even enough in terms of talent but in Tadic they have that extra bit of quality, someone who can open teams up, which Ireland lack. If Ireland under Stephen Kenny are going to play this passing game, they need someone with the creativity, the invention, to open up the opposition and create chances.

Ireland had lots of nice passing - but it was what I’d call ‘structured passing’, it wasn’t off the cuff, as Tadic did.

Apart from Wes Hoolahan, we’ve not had a player like that with Ireland. Our system doesn’t create that player, who gets the freedom to try things. In a structured team, which we have, teams will work us out, they’ll know what our midfielders will do. You need someone who is a maverick, who works off the cuff, who thinks things up, who has the confidence to try and beat someone in a one-on-one, even if that means losing the ball occasionally.

It’s hard to create when you lack a player like that, and that’s not Stephen Kenny’s fault, but it’s still an issue that’s there and has to be dealt with. If he doesn’t have a Wes-type player available, then he has to come up with the tactics to win games, play in a different style.

Irish teams over the years - often the teams I played in - were criticised for going from back to front too quickly, and there’s always space for us to play better football as a nation, so Kenny is right in trying to bring in more build-up to the play.

But we need to get the ball forward quickly, press teams, like what happened with Ireland’s second goal. A ball down the channel, a pass into the box and a mistake from their defender led to James Collins’ goal. That’s where Ireland are good, that’s where our energy and belief as a team comes from.

But when we try to only build play slowly, that’s not what Ireland do and if teams get back into a good defensive shape, we’ll find it very hard to break them down.

We need to mix it up a bit and I felt James McClean showed a bit of energy when he came on. He tried to get crosses in and that’s where we are more likely to cause teams problems, by getting it wide and getting crosses in, instead of playing through the middle all the time. In Robinson and Connolly we have good strikers, but we need to hit them early.

We have players who are learning about international football and it’s hard, as Dara O’Shea is finding out. For me, there was a three-year gap between my first time in the Irish squad and my competitive debut.

It was a different era, we had better players then. I had experienced players around me in the squad who I could learn from, defenders like Steve Staunton, so I had a good idea of the demands of international football before Mick put me in at the start of the qualifiers for 2002. These players don’t have that, they don’t have those players to look up to. Dara made a mistake for the first goal, his positioning was wrong, and he’ll learn from that.

But we need to beat Luxembourg tomorrow, they’re not the minnows they were 20 years ago and they’ll be well-organised. The most important thing is not the performance but to win the game. If we don’t win, then there really is a serious problem. There are no excuses for not winning.

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