Go into work Monday morning, have your first cup of tea of the week, and then gather your thoughts. Like most, you’ll probably have a number of jobs to do, all of varying importance. I’m sure some of the bigger jobs you’ll have on your plate will be expected to get done later on in the week — Wednesday or Thursday might do. But if you put your head down and you’re on your game, you might get it done by Monday evening, or Tuesday morning, perhaps. If that happens, you have a lot more time to work on the smaller tasks. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
On Saturday evening Ireland played Georgia in an important World Cup qualifier in Tbilisi where three points would put Martin O’ Neill’s team in a great position in Group D. The competition for automatic qualification to 2018’s World Cup in Russia, Serbia, were expected to beat Moldova quite comfortably in their match, and they did: they netted three times. A Seamus Coleman winner saw Ireland defeat Saturday’s opposition in October of last year, and fans expected something similar on September 2, 2017. Fans didn’t get that.
After the initial four minutes, wherein Shane Duffy scored the opening goal and put Ireland in a great position, the Boys in Green sat back and invited pressure. Whenever Ciaran Clark or Shane Duffy gained possession of the ball in defence, they lumped it forward, and Georgia collected. Over and over and over and over again. Naturally enough, the former Soviet republic scored an equaliser, and should’ve went on to win it. They deserved the three points.
But that makes sense, because we scored too early.
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) September 2, 2017
In his post-match interview Irish defender Shane Duffy uttered the words ‘we probably scored a bit early.’ And he wasn’t joking, either.
In the same way that playing against 10 men is apparently a harder proposition, the ‘we scored too early’ myth is something that has never and will never sit right with me. How can a team, in any line of work, complete one of the pivotal tasks too quickly? They can’t. Doing something that’s on your Wunderlist a bit sooner than you’d anticipated is a fantastic thing. But not for Ireland, of course not.
In pole position against a team that’s approximately 100 places below you in the FIFA rankings means you sit back, rather than kill the game off. While the list football’s governing body has to determine the best is most definitely suspect, it’s an indicator of a nation’s ability to get results. Georgia aren’t a push over, sure, but there’s no doubt in my mind that we should’ve smelled blood and saw them off like Ghostface did Drew Barrymore.
Recently, Sky Sports saw that over 25 years of the Premier League, teams that scored in the first 15 minutes went on to win over 63% of games. I’m guessing Duffy missed this article. Wales and Austria are currently battling it out in what has become a game where the winner will be in a far better position than first thought and if either side manages to defeat the other, they’ll end up only two points behind The Emerald Isle, rather than the expected four. On Tuesday evening Ireland play Serbia which has become a must-win game. Going off Saturday’s performance, I can’t help but fear the worst for the country I support.
Even with Robbie Brady, who has been excellent for Burnley this season, Ireland lacked any creativity on the pitch against Georgia. Our most imaginative player was instead left to twiddle his thumbs on the bench. Wes Hoolahan is 35 years of age and, in all likelihood, won’t be a choice after this campaign. If Wes is fit, you have to play him; it doesn’t make any sense to leave him out. The team is instantly lifted when Norwich City’s Wessi is attempting to play balls on the deck, creating like other players can’t.
Like Andy Reid before him, Hoolahan has been built up as this saviour, this messiah, that can have the Irish soccer team playing like Brazil in their pomp. And while we’ve probably perpetuated that on The Football Huddle podcast, there’s no doubting the man’s a step above everyone else the former Leicester City and Sunderland manager has at his disposal. But O’ Neill won’t play him, and the Irish public groan in unison when we see Aiden McGeady warm up. It’s disheartening to see someone of such quality see out the remainder of his international career sitting down.
If the 11 men that step out onto the Aviva Stadium’s green carpet on Tuesday score early, they need to realise that it’s a good thing and push on. When Ireland faced off against the current group leaders last September, Jeff Hendrick scored in the third minute. We drew that game, too. If the same XI put in the effort that was seen in the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, we’ll likely be third after the 90 minutes, or potentially fourth. If Hoolahan starts, and Ireland are allowed to be creative, there’s a chance we finish this round in a better position than we started, and play Moldova in October with a decent chance of qualification.
That’s wishful thinking right now, though.