Ireland were shown the importance of Kevin Doyle to Ireland’s cutting edge as they had Slovakia on the ropes but couldn’t put them away and eventually ended up with a 1-1 draw that leaves both teams trailing behind Russia.
If Ireland wanted to erase the memory of the abject performance against the Russians, particularly in the first half, then they haven’t done it. 1-0 up against the Slovaks for most of the first half, thanks to an opportunist’s goal from Sean St Ledger, they fell into old habits and allowed Slovakia score from a perfect Slovakia corner and a bullet header by Durica.
Eight minutes into the game, the need for Ireland to win this one became apparent. Russia went 1-0 up against Macedonia and taking firm control of the group.
Slovakia were muscular early on and found space, but their shooting was wayward and Ireland looked the more likely to score.
And on 16 minutes, defender Sean St Ledger popped up with that goal. A free from Fahey and the Slovak defense was all fingers and thumbs. It dropped to St Ledger who stroked it into the bottom left hand corner.
In the subsequent minutes, Ireland looked likely to double their lead as Slovakia’s confidence splintered. But, as the minutes ticked on, Trap’s team’s conservative nature, their lack of a killer instinct, reasserted itself. Lovely passages of passing and possession-retention, but no incision in the final third. Slovakia, a boxer on the ropes, recovered and found their composure. Sloppy Irish defending let them get a shot or two on target, further bolstered that confidence.
A corner whipped in on 36 minutes finds Durica’s head and Glenn Whelan couldn’t stop him. Trap’s men were to spend the rest of the game suffering for their complacency.
Some endeavor was there but the execution was lacking. On 40 minutes, Shane Long whipped in a slide-rule pass across the face of goal, which should have been 2-1 to Ireland but Robbie Keane couldn’t get his toe to it.
Keane unforgivably fluffed another opportunity seconds before half time. The Slovak keeper was unlucky to be pinged for taking the striker down in the box but the Dubliner, admittedly facing into a wall of Slovak hostility on the terraces, tapped a tame effort towards goal, which was easily saved.
Ireland needed Trapattoni to send then out with their ears ringing, but instead they started the second half under serious pressure.
Slovakia had chance after chance, putting the defense and Shay Given under serious strain with lazy defending. For the next thirty minutes, Slovakia had the better chances. At the very least, Ireland’s defense had improved with Kevin Kilbane, Richard Dunne and John O’Shea popping up with crucial contributions in as the 70s turned into the 80s. Ireland’s best opportunity, and perhaps the best of the entire second half, came in the 85th minute when a ball across the box from McGeady found Keane, who shook off his man artfully but lifted the shot too high. The disgust on his face reflected the disgust on many fans’ faces.
The crucial absence was Doyle’s, though. With McGeady fairly anonymous on the left and Keane showing his lack of fitness and match practice, Ireland hadn’t the cutting edge. Tactically, Trap has to take responsibility. The team had improved since the Russia game, but Slovakia were just asking to be cut open by some incisive passing. Such a shambles was the managerial performance that the Italian tried to make a substitution on 94 minutes. It never happened, because the referee blew his final whistle.
It does not bode well for qualification.