Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ireland vs Macedonia - Thoughts

Don't worry. Its all over. You can now breathe a sigh of relief. Those last 10-15 minutes were unbearable but we did, in the end, get the job done. Just. That first half performance just about did it but we were looking edgy towards the end of the game.

The first half was one of our better performances in recent times. The way we passed the ball about - almost Barcelona-esque at times - made us look invincible and after 21 minutes we had two goals to show for it, partly aided by Macedonia's shaky goalkeeping. We kept the tempo up for much of the first half but we were undone by some slick Macedonian play which saw our own Richy Dunne turned inside-out and they halved the deficit to just 2-1 minutes before the break.

Much of the same was expected of us in the second half but we looked a different team when the Irish came out of the tunnel for the second half and not in a good way. We began to look weary and gave away a lot of unnecessary free-kicks in innocuous parts of the pitch. We became sloppy. We allowed Macedonia to play football and us Irish basically invited them to have a few pops at goal which could have proved costly in the end if Westwood hadn't denied goalscorer Trickovski, we'd have been in real trouble.

Coach Giovanni Trappatoni had named the line-up on Friday afternoon and in it, he included the names of three Irishmen who were to make their first competitive starts in an Irish shirt. Kevin Foley was employed at right-back, Darren O'Dea at centre-back and Kieran Westwood was covering for the injured Shay Given. In my opinion, they all did what was required with Westwood making saves when called upon. Kevin Foley, the Wolverhampton Wanderers right-back came across as an exceptionally comfortable individual on the ball and O'Dea performed solidly making it hard for the Macedonian's to break down the Irish wall of defence.

The only negative of the night was the injury to current FAI Player of the Year Kevin Doyle, who took a knock on his knee meaning he was subbed inside the 20 minute mark. Tony O'Donoghue reported pitch side that Doyle would be missing the match against Uruguay on Tuesday and the injury is sure to upset Wolves boss Mick McCarthy who has depended heavily on Doyle this season to make sure Wolves maintain their Premier League status.

We also saw the end to the on-going fiasco that surrounded James McCarthy as he FINALLY made the competitive appearance that see's him officially become an Irish player. McCarthy came on as an 86th minute substitute for Robbie Keane and he put the bed those rumours of his club coach Roberto Martinez claiming that he still hadn't made up his mind of who to play for when he came on late in the game. McCarthy stated both this week and last week that he had his mind set on becoming an Irish - and not Scottish - player and when he came on he was met with an enormously gracious response as the Irish showed they welcomed him into the clan with open arms and we're glad he's here to stay.

I'd also like to commend Robbie Keane on his record-equaling 40th match as captain. That in itself is an achievement and he now draws level with Andy Townsend for most times captaining Ireland. Even though he may be past his prime he showed tonight that he still possesses that strikers instinct with an ever-instinctive finish that saw Ireland match Russia and Slovakia's table topping 10 points from 5 games.

Here's to more of the same from Keane and hopefully he can surpass Townsend's record and with it, bring Ireland into the Euro Championships in 2012.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Curious Case Of Darron Gibson

This was supposed to be Gibson’s year. The year that Gibson starts to challenge regularly for a United shirt. The year he becomes a hero. In the past he’s only been known for his memorable long-range efforts. This season he wanted to prove his doubters wrong and deliver a message that would immediately signal Sir Alex’s attention and get him to insert the Irishman into the first team. But that plan has failed and as a result he finds himself wandering aimlessly in the reserve side, constantly waiting for a call-up to the first team which is usually for a game of a ‘dead rubber’ standard. He was given the green light by Ferguson to reassert his presence in the first team when United played Crawley Town in the FA Cup, a team which has beaten the likes of Derby and Torquay on their way to a memorable draw against the Premier League leaders.

Gibson only ever plays dead rubbers/non important matches now for United as I've previously stated. Don’t you deny it. When he plays there’s a constant need to give the ball away on his behalf. It’s what gets him thrown back to the reserve side. However, on this occasion, Gibson seemed to have matured as a footballer and was one of the better United players on the pitch on Saturday, but let’s keep in mind, it was Crawley Town United were up against, a non-league side for pete’s sake.

Gibson had been picked up by United when he was just 14 years of age. He gracefully advanced through the United setup with considerable ease and was playing regularly in the reserve side at 19. Spells at Royal Antwerp and Wolverhampton Wanderers aided his first team aspirations and by the age of 21 he was given his debut by Sir Alex in a Premier League match vs Stoke City. Gibson continued his progress on his way into the United squad and made several more appearances over the next couple of seasons, making a total of 14 apps in 2008/09, 23 in 2009/10 and 13 so far in the current campaign.

He’s undoubtedly made his mark with the finesse in which he scores his goals. Usually long efforts, Sir Alex has praised Gibson in the past claiming that Gibson could be the new Paul Scholes and also stated that “Who is to say if Gibson had been playing all the time where he would be in terms of goals?” Sir Alex seems confident in the young star and let’s remember, he’s only 23 so there’s still plenty of time to improve and its fair to say he’s come on leaps and bounds since his introduction to the squad of Manchester United.

This season Gibson has been involved in quite a few games for the Red Devils and although he doesn’t always start, there’s a sense of when he shoots, he’ll probably score. But then there’s the problem that he’s “no Paul Scholes” as the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor stated earlier this week after his lacklustre performance against Marseille. Gibson was shockingly chosen ahead of Paul Scholes to start the Marseille encounter but his lack of creativity once again brought up questions of why he continues to play. There’s no doubt Gibson can pass the ball but he lacks inventiveness – the kind that Xavi possesses. The only quality United fans have ever seen is his shooting range. Never, has he impressed the United faithful with his ‘passing’ or ‘overall commitment’.

We can’t forget Gibson’s Irish dilemma. Gibson is keen to play for Ireland as we all know but on several occasions Giovanni Trappatoni has expressed a desire for the young lad to gain football with a move away stating that “He can do more. He has a big potential. If I was Gibson I would go to another group where I always play.” Gibson, having reacted to a similar comment from his elder back in November, was reluctant to speak out this time.

For me personally, Gibson is a player to keep an eye on. I’d always thought that Gibson would become an indispensable player of the squad sooner or later and although you may all deny it, I’m backing Gibbo all the way to the end.