Defensive frailties on show as United beat Samp in Dublin

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Manchester United vs Sampdoria

Manchester United manager, José Mourinho was pleased with the overall performance of his squad throughout this pre-season tour, which ended on Wednesday evening with a 2-1 victory over Serie A side, Sampdoria at the Aviva Stadium. The Red Devils controlled the game from the beginning with Sampdoria not putting too much pressure on the Europa League Champions. However, despite this is clear to see that United are still prone to defensive mistakes.

The main talking point at kick off was that new signing Nemanja Matić started for United in what looked like a potential starting XI for the new season. The Serbian only joined United from Chelsea on Monday for a rumoured £40 million. However, the midfielder settled right into the squad and could be seen instructing his teammates throughout his time on the pitch. His signing could be the bit of leadership and direction that this squad needs to combat these mistakes. However, it is early days yet.

While it is fair to say that there is nothing in these types of games and they are essentially a glorified kick about, the United backroom staff will have wanted their players to be taking these games seriously and keeping the mistakes to the minimum. The game’s first goal could have easily have been a sensational own goal from Daley Blind with only 5 minutes on the clock. The Dutch defender sent a heavy pass back to De Gea without checking if the keeper was in position. Queue madness as the United keeper paced back to stop the ball from rolling into his own net. The Spaniard had to stretch out and tip the ball out of play which resulted in an indirect free-kick some 6 yards out from the goal.

Sampdoria’s equaliser in the 63rd minute was a nice piece of counter attack play but again it shouldn’t have occurred. Karol Linetty delivered a fine cross for striker Fabio Quagiarella. The United defence did a poor job of clearing the danger and delivered the ball to the feet of Dennis Praet who hit it hard and low. De Gea and his defenders could only look on as the ball rolled into the bottom left corner of the net.

Not to be too hard on Mourinho’s men, their attacking prowess in the 90 minutes was superb and they really should have scored a few more with Henrikh Mkhitaryan left open in the box on a few occasions from crosses. His headers just going wide of the goal. However, Sampdoria’s defence circled the attackers and closed down the opportunities during open play and were impressive in their own right despite the defeat on the night.

With their pre-season now complete, United’s priorities lie to next Tuesday and a meeting with Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. While it won’t be the trophy Mourinho will be clamouring for, he will be keen for his squad to lay down a marker for the season ahead and to push on to bigger and better targets. After the match in the Aviva, Mourinho again insisted that he still would like another player before the transfer window closes. Hopefully, it will be one that suits his, and his squad’s needs defensively because it could be another long, dreary season for United fans if defensive errors are not corrected before the season starts.

Manchester United: De Gea (J. Pereira 75′), Lindelof (Jones 75′), Smalling (Bailly 75′), Blind (Martial 59′), Valencia (C), Matić (Carrick 45′), A. Pereira (Herrera 45′), Pogba (Fellaini 45′), Darmian (Tuanzebe 75′), Mkhitaryan (Mata 45′), Lukaku (Rashford 59′)

Substitutes: Fosu-Mensah, McTominay
Goals: Mkhitaryan (10′), Mata (80′)

Sampdoria: Puggioni (Tozzo 85′), Sala (Bereszynski 75′), Barreto (Djuricic 75′), Caprari (Bonazzoli 75′), Linetty (Alvarez 65′), Praet (Verre 75′), Regini (C), Pavlovic (Murru 65′), Silvestre, Quagliarella (Kownacki 85′), Torreira (Capezzi 85′)

Substitutes: Simic, Pires, Leverbe
Goals: Praet (63′)
Yellow Cards: Torreira (73′)

Referee: Neil Doyle (IRL)

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Aviva to host LOI Supporters workshop

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 LOI Supporters: Making a Vital DifferenceOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

Tomorrow (Saturday) morning will see a host of League of Ireland fans descend to the Aviva Stadium. No, this isn’t some Derry City or St.Pat’s fans turning up a day early for the FAI Cup Final. Rather this is a workshop being put together by Irish Supporters Network entitled “LOI Supporters: Making a Vital Difference.”

It was only a couple of week ago when FAI chief executive John Delaney described the Airtricity League as a “difficult child.” He also dismissed claims that the domestic game was in difficulty. Now League of Ireland fans will assemble at the home of the international team to discuss the future of the league and how they can play a role in it.

There will be various sessions running throughout the day to facilitate dialogue on what initiatives are currently taking place and what improvements can be made to improve the Irish game and draw more people to their local football ground. Representatives from the FAI will be in attendance along with members of Supporters Direct and Football Supporters Europe to talk about their own experience of fan engagement and hopefully, help supporters engage with their local club.

Some of the sessions which are planned for tomorrow, include

– Fan Engagement: What constitutes meaningful engagement and how can it benefit clubs and supporters?

– Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO): how the SLO role can develop and have an impact on Irish football

– Volunteers in Action: How supporters and volunteers are actively working to support their clubs week in week out

– Panel Discussion: How can we draw fans away from their TV and into our football grounds?

With so much on offer this weekend at the Aviva Stadium, there should be some food for thought for League of Ireland fans and how they envisage a positive future in the domestic game.

There are still a handful of places available for “LOI Supporters: Making a Vital Difference.” For details on tomorrow’s event go to www.heartofthegame.ie or find them on Twitter @HOTG_ie

Comfortable victory for Ireland as focus shifts towards Georgia

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Republic of Ireland team celebrateOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland started the new season on the right foot as they defeated Oman 2-0 in the final friendly game ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Georgia. However, Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill will be questioning why his squad could not put away more of the chances that were handed to his side throughout the 90 minutes.

Wednesday night saw a weakened starting XI with some of the key members of the squad left on the bench ahead of the test that awaits them in Tbilisi this weekend. However, there was a return for Everton’s Darron Gibson made a return to Aviva after being out of the squad for the last 10 months due to a mixture of injury and being disheartened by former manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

The ‘Boys in Green’ started brightly in the opening exchanges as they pressed forward in search of an early goal. However, the Oman defence packed into the box and swatted off any attack on their goal. The Irish then drifted off as Oman went on the attack. An attempted pass by Stephen Quinn was blocked by referee, Illias Spathas, and Raed Saleh picked up the loose ball and paced down the wing and onto the edge of the box. He laid the ball off to Mohammed Al Siyabi, who struck it poorly and went wide of the returning Shay Given.

The first half was marred by some sloppy play by the Irish including a back pass by Robbie Brady to Given that went out of play for a corner. There were plenty of mistimed passes made by the Irish that would have gone punished if against sterner opponents, something that O’Neill must work on ahead of the forthcoming fixtures.

However, the Republic’s game improved slightly after the 19th minute when Brady whipped in a corner that was met by Kevin Doyle. His header sailed passed Wigan Athletic keeper Ali Al Habsi and into the back of the net. The Crystal Palace man marked his 60th game in the green jersey with his 14th international goal.

There were a few more chances in between but nothing could hit the target. The best chance to put the Irish further ahead, lay to David Meyler after Brady’s cross was punched away by Al Habsi and landed at the Hull City man’s feet. His chip bounced off the upright and back into play but was cleared by the Oman defence.

The second half started much like the first ended. However, the pace picked up when the trio of Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Aiden McGeady came on in the 58th minute and gave the Irish the boost it needed. McGeady had a great opportunity to double the Irish lead, 20 minutes into the second period, but the Everton midfielder’s attempt was cleared off the line by Mohammed Al Musalami.

The attacks didn’t stop and the Irish piled on the pressure but the finishing left a lot to be desired. However, on the 81st minute, Brady’s corner was met by captain of the night, Richard Keogh, his slight tap landed to Alex Pearce and the Reading man slotted home a soft shot past Oman’s keeper.

Oman had a few chances as well but their best effort was a long through ball by Hussain Al Hadhri to Saad Al Mukhaini, which was collected by substitute keeper Rob Elliot, who replaced Given for the second half.

After the game, O’Neill commented on the performance and was happy with the win for his squad. “We needed the game and it was nice to win. We would have liked to been further ahead by half time and got the second goal earlier but we played some nice football. My concern would be that when we made a few good passes but it ended with the ball going backwards,” said O’Neill.

O’Neill also comment on the team he had for Sunday with Joey O’Brien and now, James McClean both ruled out of the clash with Georgia through injury. “I was concerned that Joey O’Brien had to go and James McClean is out now too. My concern with James is that he has not had enough game time at Wigan. I want to give him a chance to get ready for later games and not worsen the injury.”

The Ireland manager also admitted he was looking forward to the campaign and mentioned that confidence was high in the camp. “It’s a long road ahead,” claimed O’Neill, “However, we will be ready for it. We won the game tonight and took confidence from it. There was no confidence lost during the summer games. We have only one thing in mind and that is to prepare as best as possible for Sunday.”

With the 4 games before the end of the year, 3 of them away including a trip to World Cup winners Germany, O’Neill and Keane will be happy with tonight’s result but know that there will need to be some improvements ahead of Sunday evening’s game against the Georgians.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Given (Elliot 46’), Meyler (Murphy 85’), Keogh (C), Pearce, Ward, Pilkington (McGeady 58’), Gibson (Whelan 69’), Quinn, Brady, Hoolahan (Keane 58’), Doyle (Long 58’).
Substitutes: Forde, Wilson, Coleman, O’Shea, Stokes.
Goals: Doyle 19’, Pearce 81’
Yellow Cards: Gibson 68’

OMAN: Al Habsi (C), S Al Mukhani, A Al Mukhani, Al Ghailani (Al Busaidi 58’), Al Owaisi, Al Musalani, Al Muhaijri (Al Jabri 58’), Al Farsi (Al Muqbali 80’), Saleh (Al Mashari 86’), Al Siyani, Hardan (Al Qasmi 58’)
Substitutes: Al Rushidi, Al Zaabi, Al Nahar, Al Jalbobi, Al Hadhri, Al Ihsi, Almashari.

Referee: Illias Spathas (Greece)

Man of the Match: David Meyler

Honeymoon is over for the Dream Team as Serbia hand O’Neill his first defeat

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Ireland vs SerbiaThe Dream Team of O’Neill and Keane returned to Dublin but it wasn’t the result they were looking for as the Serbians left with a victory over an Irish team, that at times showed some great skill but was still a work in progress.

It was close to being the perfect start for the Irish after James McClean sent in a cross that was struck well by Glenn Whelan into the back of net. The assistant referee ruled the goal offside after judging that Wes Hoolahan was offside. Hoolahan’s foot grazed the ball before going into the goal. However, replays showed that Hoolahan was played onside by Dušan Basta.

It didn’t take long for Ireland to put pressure on the Serbians once again. That pressure paid off when a mix up in communication between captain, Branislav Ivanović, and keeper, Vladimir Stojković, gifted Shane Long the ball, who, without hesitation, chipped the keeper perfectly to score the opening goal of the game.

Serbia then settled into the game and had a handful of chances at goal including a powerful header from Ivanović that was cleared off the line by James McCarthy.  Dušan Tadić also had a great effort on goal. The FC Twente midfielder’s effort from outside the box had to be tipped over the crossbar by David Forde. The Irish seemed to fall off the pace a bit as halftime approached and would carry this into the second half.

This was evident in the second half as Ireland instantly threw away their lead. Some poor play from Ireland, allowed Serbia to pick up the ball outside the box and Aleksandar Kolarov’s pass forced James McCarthy to attempt a block but instead he put the ball into the back of his own net. It was an unfortunate incident for Everton man, who up to that point was having a good game.

Ireland applied some pressure following the goal and Shane Long will be kicking himself that he didn’t restore Ireland’s lead after a perfect ball from Wes Hoolahan set Long on course for his second goal. However, the Hull City striker scuffed his shot after trying to chip the keeper and the look on his face after his attempt summed up his effort.

The Serbians then got the winning goal following some more poor play from Ireland, which led to a scramble in the box with the ball landing at the feet of Filip Dordević. It was an easy tap in for the striker, who played well throughout his time on the pitch.

Both goals summed up the work that needs to be done when the team meets up again. Seamus Coleman had a disappointing game. The Everton defender seemed to lose the ball easily and it could be argued that he was at fault for both of Serbia’s goals.

There were positives to take away from the game though as the combination of Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long looked promising, James McClean also looked well on the flanks, James McCarthy also performed well in the centre of midfield even with his own goal.

The final score was not what fans were looking for, but as Roy Keane had suggested previously the job at hand is a “work in progress” and that was visible. Another test will come in May, as the Boys in Green take on another higher-ranking team in the shape of Fatih Terim’s Turkey.

We are trying to build spirit and confidence – Keane

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Republic of Ireland training sessionIt was a sunny but cold morning on Dublin’s coast as the Republic of Ireland squad trained at Gannon Park. Manager, Martin O’Neill, and his assistant, Roy Keane, kept a close eye on proceedings in Malahide as the Boys in Green prepared for the clash with Serbia on Wednesday night.

There were few concerns regarding injuries at today’s training session. Damien Delaney suffered a knock in Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw with Swansea at the weekend and will join up with the squad later today, according to assistant manager Roy Keane.

John O’Shea will also fly into Dublin later today after his side, Sunderland, lost to Manchester City in the Capital One Cup Final on Sunday afternoon. Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington sat out training due to their participation in Norwich City’s 4-1 loss to Aston Villa on Sunday evening. A game, in which, the former of the two players scored the opening goal of the game.

QPR keeper, Brian Murphy is a late addition to the squad replacing Rob Elliot. The Newcastle keeper misses the game due to a knee problem.

The manager has already lost 4 members of his initial 29-man squad with the withdrawals of Andy Reid, Kevin Doyle and Rob Elliot. O’Neill has rested Richard Dunne so he can get more game time at QPR and be prepared for the end of season friendlies. Andy Reid misses the Serbia game due to surgery on a hernia, which is expected to keep him out of action for up to 6 weeks. Meanwhile, QPR striker, Kevin Doyle has a thigh problem.

Keane praised Reid’s performances of late for Nottingham Forrest. However, he was quick to point out that injuries are part of the game of football. “I’ve seen Reid a few times this year, he has been outstanding. So he is a loss, but that’s the name of the game, players will get injured, particularly at this stage of the season with a lot of demands on them,” said Keane.

When asked about a possible team selection, Keane was quick to respond that the management will have to wait until they hear back from the players and then decided tonight how to dictate training tomorrow ahead of a team selection for Wednesday’s game.

The former Irish captain was asked about the importance of Wednesday night’s match with the high-ranking Serbia but dismissed prioritising games and signalling that each game was as important as the next. “There’s nothing but benefits when winning a game of football”, according to Keane, who also suggested the need to build a spirit before the team goes its separate ways and meets up again at the season’s end.

The assistant manager also shared his thoughts on Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualifying group. Commenting on the group, Keane said, “It’s very tough, but one we are looking forward to. I know I keep saying we are going to be up against some good teams but we are a good team. So roll on September, we’ll be ready.”

Keane also admitted that his new role had changed the way he looked at games. “Obviously, you have a different mind-set. First and foremost when you go to a match, you keep your fingers’ crossed that the lads are playing. I can go to the games and enjoy the contribution the Irish lads have been giving to their teams. Of course, my mind-set is that is my priority. Before, I would just be going to a match as a fan of football and now it is to make sure the Irish lads are getting involved and doing well,” commented Keane.

Ireland’s assistant manager was also asked about his comments midweek about his old club, Manchester United’s performance in the Champions League against Olympiakos and whether he would say the same to the Irish team if they put on a similar performance. The Cork man thought that his comments during the week and any comments he has made in the past be it as pundit or manager have been “fair.”

Keane refused to comment on the incident at the weekend between Hull City midfielder David Meyler and Newcastle United manager, Alan Pardew saying it was, “none of my business.”

Keane was also happy with the improvements made in the Irish set up since he joined with O’Neill late last year. He was pleased with the organisation of the set up and also the number of staff made available to the squad and management. He did admit it was still a work in progress. He was also asked if he rolled his eyes this morning, reading the newspaper reports regarding Mick McCarthy’s comments about Keane’s apology to him about the Saipan incident in 2002. Keane’s reply was simple; “I roll my eyes most mornings.”

The match on Wednesday night in Aviva Stadium will no doubt be an exercise for the management team as they look to September and the opening game of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign against Georgia. O’Neill will be eager to cast an eye over a range of players as he puts together a squad that will challenge for qualification to the tournament in France from group D.

Serbia have a full strength squad that includes familiar names like Ivanović, Matić, and Kolarov among its ranks. A name that may appear on interim coach, Ljubinko Drulović’s team sheet is that of Stefan Šćepović. The Sporting Gijón forward has scored 17 goals in 26 appearances for his club this season in the Spanish Segunda División.

The game will no doubt be a good test for the Boys in Green as they prepare for the challenge that lies ahead of them in September. A win here will put them in good spirits, as mentioned by Keane and will help build much needed momentum towards Tbilisi on September 7th.

Original story for the The LOI Blog posted here.