Long Story Short – Shane Needs To Find His Scoring Boots

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Shane Long Republic of Ireland

The three points are in the bag and the scene is all set for the showdown with Wales in Cardiff on Monday night. However, one of the talking points of Friday’s 2-0 win over Moldova will be who should lead the attack for the crunch tie in just a few days time. It will be a tough decision, which manager Martin O’Neill will have to consider in the next few days.

On one hand, he has Daryl Murphy, who before this match had only 1 goal in 29 caps but scored two within the first 20 minutes. On the other hand, he has Shane Long, with his quick pace and who was considered reliable in front of goal. However, the Southampton striker has not scored in 24 games for club and country and has only one goal to his name in qualifying (the reverse of Friday night’s fixture).

Long was once again leaving the field a frustrated figure. He had opportunities to put the Boys in Green further ahead on a number of occasions. His best opportunity came in the 61st minute. After a terrific build-up of play from Wes Hoolahan, who really should have taken an effort on goal himself, Long took a crack but his effort just crept wide. The cries from the stands and the shake of the head from the manager were a sign that he really should have hit the back of the net.

It was a night to remember for Murphy though. The Nottingham Forrest man was deservedly named Man of the Match for his two splendid goals. Anyone within the Aviva Stadium could see that he was desperate to complete his hat-trick. Murphy was in a sombre mood when pictured after being named Man of the Match sitting on the bench. All could tell he wanted to stay on the pitch and score another goal. However, he could possibly have a bigger date with destiny and an important goal in him for Monday night against the Welsh.

Another name that could be in contention for the crucial game on Monday and would cause a shock is that of Sean Maguire. The Preston North End striker and former Cork City man came onto the pitch for the last ten minutes of the game. The reception from the home fans when he came onto the pitch was remarkable. It was close to the equivalent of one of the goals scored and he has caught the imagination of the Irish supporters. Especially at a time when we are in need of a constant threat in front of goal.

With James McClean set to return from suspension and David McGoldrick a possibility despite a niggling injury, Long may well be reduced to a substitute in such a critical fixture. It would be a bold move by O’Neill but it could perhaps be the one needed to secure the Republic of Ireland a place in a World Cup for the first time in 16 years.

REP. OF IRELAND: Randolph, Christie, Clark, Duffy, Ward, Hendrick, Meyler (C), Hoolahan (McGeady 78′), S. Long (Maguire 82′), Murphy (Arter 78′), O’Dowda

Substitutes: Doyle, Elliot, O’Shea, Keogh, Whelan, O’Kane, Hourihane, Hogan, K. Long
Goals: Murphy (2′, 19′)
Yellow Cards: Arter (91′)

Moldova: Cebanu, Racu, Epureanu (C), Ionita, Gatcan, Dedov (Cociuc 54′), Ginsari, Bordian, Platica (Ambros 79′), Anton, Rozgoniuc

Substitutes: Koselev, S. Pascenco, Graur, Antoniuc, Cojocari, A. Pascenco, Ojog
Yellow Cards: Rozgoniuc (41′)
Red Cards: Gatcan (92′)

Referee: Bas Nijhuis (NED)

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Elliot Injury Sours O’Neill’s Night

Republic of Ireland Team
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The Republic of Ireland shared the spoils with their Slovakian visitors on a night that was overshadowed by what looks like a season-ending injury to Newcastle Untied goalkeeper Rob Elliot and denting his chances of a place in the Irish squad heading to France this summer. The Slovakians kept the hosts busy throughout the game. However, star player Marek Hamšík had a quiet night in Dublin in front of a quiet Aviva Stadium, which included Wales (Slovakia’s Euro 2016 Group B opponents) manager, Chris Coleman among those in attendance.

It was an entertaining first half for the 30,00o plus who travelled to the Aviva Stadium with four goals in the first 45 minutes. It was the Slovakians who went ahead thanks to an error from Paul McShane, the first of many on a bad night for the Reading defender. His mistimed header on the half way line landed at the feet of Erik Sabo, who launched down the right wing and worked his way into the box. His pass made it to Miroslav Stoch, who was unmarked and with a first touch slotted it past Rob Elliot. The Newcastle ‘keeper looked to have landed awkwardly when coming down from the attempted save.

Commenting on the injury after the match, O’Neill said that the early prognosis was knee ligament damage and that it was a huge blow to the player after rebuilding his career and confidence. He wouldn’t be drawn on speculation that the injury will bring an early end to Elliot’s season.

Two penalties in the space of two minutes, helped bring the Irish back into the game. Firstly, goalkeeper, Matus Kozáčik brought Shane Long down near the touchline with the keeper softly catching the striker on the foot. Long slotted home the penalty without haste. Not much time passed before Long burst into the area again, only for captain Martin Škrtel to bring down the Southampton striker in the area. Arguably, another soft penalty given by the referee. This time it was James McClean, who stood up and scored to put The Boys in Green in the lead.

The game started to settle and there was pressure created from both sides. Sabo added to his assist with a yellow card after a pair of late challenges on James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan. The latter having to pull away the angered Everton midfielder from the Slovakian winger.

Then as half time approached, the visitors were allowed back into the game. Peter Pekarík broke into space on the edge of the right hand side of the box. He chipped the ball before it managed to cross the line to Robert Vittek who headed it down towards goal. The ball took a detour off McShane’s chest and slipped past substitute keeper, Darren Randolph. Speaking after the game, O’Neill felt that Vittek had used his fist to guide the ball.

The game fizzled out in the second half with the tempo of both sides dropping. With the substitution of Long at half time – this gave O’Neill the liberty to play around with the team in terms of shape and test out different players. While this game may not be remembered from a fan’s point of view, it will certainly help shape the formation of the 23 man squad that will represent the Republic of Ireland at the European Championships this summer.

REP. OF IRELAND: Elliot (Randolph 15′), McShane, O’Shea (C) (Pearce 45′), Whelan, McCarthy, Long (Brady 45′), McClean, Christie, Ward (Hayes 78′), Hoolahan (McGeady 72′), O’Kane (Pilkington 66′)

Substitutes: Forde, Coleman, Keogh, Meyler, Quinn, Clark, Gleeson, Duffy, Judge, Doherty
Goals: Long (21′), McClean (23′)
Yellow Cards: McClean (66′)

Slovakia: Kozáčik, Pekarík, Škrtel (C), Greguš (Hrošovský 74′), Šesták (Weiss 63′), Stoch (Mak 63′), Vittek (Nemec 63′), Sabo (Duda 63′), Saláta, Hamšík, Švento (Tesák 88′)

Substitutes: Mucha, Dúbravka, Ďurica, Tesák, Hubočan, Ďuriš
Goals:  Stoch (13′), McShane (OG 45′)
Yellow Cards: Sabo (31′), Pekarík (63′), Greguš (70′)

Referee: Ola Ober Nielsen (NOR)

Long the hero on famous night in Dublin

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Republic of Ireland team celebrate

It was a historic night in Dublin, as the Republic of Ireland beat the odds to inflict a 1-0 defeat on World Champions, Germany in Group D of the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Substitute Shane Long scored a terrific goal that left the destiny of the Boys in Green in their own hands. A win or 2-2 or higher scoring draw against Poland on Sunday will see Martin O’Neill’s men qualify automatically to next summer’s finals in France.

The first half was all the visitors. Germany were pressing hard against the Irish defence and practically owned the ball for the first quarter of the game. Jérôme Boateng had an early effort to put the Germans a goal up within the first ten minutes. The Bayern Munich midfielder had plenty of time to get his head on the ball from a corner. Fortunately, his effort sailed over the crossbar. An early escape for Ireland.

The Boys in Green got another lucky escape in the 19th minute. Thomas Müller was given a lot of time with the ball on the left hand side of the pitch. The striker picked out Arsenal man Mesut Özil who tipped the ball just right and it crept past Shay Given and into the back of the net. However, the Germans didn’t have time to celebrate as the assistant’s flag was raised for an offside. It was a terrific decision by the linesman as the midfielder drifted past the Irish defence’s high line.

The Irish failed to press forward except for the odd chance. One of the funnier moments of the half occurred when Wes Hoolahan picked up the ball at the halfway line but could not spot a green jersey to pass to. The Norwich winger did something one would do if playing FIFA on the Playstation…he ran around in a small circle until someone was available.

The Irish did have a few efforts on goal. The best of the (very small) bunch, began with a nice one-two between Hoolahan and Jon Walters. Walters then tried to slip the ball low and past Manuel Neuer but was undone by the German defence who blocked the effort.

There was also disappointed towards the end of the first half. After keeping the visitors at bay, keeper, Shay Given was forced off with what looked like a bad leg injury. The vetern was replaced by Darren Randolph between the Irish posts. The early diagnosis is a twisted knee but there is no update on his availability for Sunday as of writing.

The Irish team came out of the second half with an extra spring in their step. It was as if there was a belief on the field that they could shock their illustrious visitors. However, it was the Germans who had the first good crack at goal. Marco Reus swung in a lovely ball towards Andre Schürrle. The substitute cracked the ball but the effort just sailed over the crossbar.

The Irish then started to make themselves known in the game. They started to move the ball about and at times showed some quality play in an effort to keep possession. Wes Hoolahan and James McCarthy showed their worth with strong performances in the middle of the pitch. McCarthy kept the world champions at bay with some fine tackles, while Hoolahan helped to move the ball forward and create chances in and around the German area.

However, it was down to substitute Long who won the game for the Irish. Darren Randolph’s long ball down the middle of the field, was met by the Southampton striker who brought down the ball and knocked past the defence and blasted it past an oncoming Neuer and into the top left hand corner of the net. The crowd in the Aviva went mad. The reception to this goal was like that of Jason McAteer’s against Holland in 2001 at the old Lansdowne Road. The roar was deafening and the Irish fans were on their feet chanting for the rest of the game. Finally, the “best fans in the world” found their voice.

Speaking after the game, Irish manager Martin O’Neill was obviously delighted to win the game and wasn’t going to think about the Poland game until Friday morning. “I’m ecstatic that we have won the game. You would think that beating the Germans and not being beaten by them at all, taking on the World Champions, would be worth at least deserving to win the tournament but that is not the case,” joked the Irish manager.

With the win, Ireland have secured at least a play off place as they edge towards qualification to France. There will be a big belief in the Irish camp, that they can go to Warsaw and steal three points and an automatic qualifying place from hosts, Poland. In the meantime, they will be soaking up this big win in the Irish capital.

REP. OF IRELAND: Given (Randolph 43′), Christie, Keogh, O’Shea (C), Ward (Meyler 69′), Hendrick, McCarthy, Brady, Hoolahan, Walters, Murphy (Long 65′)

Substitutes: Forde, McShane, O’Kane, Pearce, McGoldrick, McGeady, Keane, Doyle, Gibson
Goals: Long (70′)
Yellow Cards: Hoolahan (89′)

GERMANY: Neuer (C), Ginter (Bellarabi 77′), Boateng, Hummels, Hector, Gündogan (Volland 84′), Kroos, Reus, Özil, Müller, Götze (Schürrle 35′)

Substitutes: Leno, ter Stegen, Mustafi, Rudy, Schweinsteiger, Can, Volland, Krammer, Kruse,
Yellow Cards: Hummels (85′)

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)

Attendance: 50,604

O’Neill Refuses To Look Past Gibraltar

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Republic of Ireland Team

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Punch-ups, voicemails and a ‘f**king p***k’ were the talking points this week in the lead up to the Euro 2016 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar. Thankfully, this was not a bust up in the Irish dressing room rather it was the spicy details leaked from the Republic’s assistant manager, Roy Keane’s new autobiography that has overshadowed the preparations for this game.

However, manager Martin O’Neill refuses to indulge in questions about the former Manchester United skipper’s book. He would rather talk about Saturday’s match, a match in which he hopes to win ahead of the trip to Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday where they will meet World Champions, Germany.

O’Neill is refusing to look ahead though. He is adamant that his team’s focus is purely on the minnows. He knows that with a lack of focus there could be an almighty upset. “We have to win the game, it’s really just as simple as that. We have to win the match. This is very important for us. There are three points on offer, we have to go and win the game,” stated the Derry man.

O’Neill discussed how his Polish counterparts were ‘relieved’ to get the first goal in their game against Gibraltar. It had been a shaky start but the Polish really came into their own after taking a 1-0 lead into the break, they went on to win 7-0. Commenting on that game he said, “They found it difficult. They scored a host of goals towards the end of the game but they said they’d found it difficult. And I wasn’t sure what they meant until I watched the game. And, honestly, Gibraltar did cause a problem or two.”

There will be plenty of thought in regards to who makes the starting 11 on Saturday. One of the positions that will be of interest to fans and pundits alike is at right back, after Seamus Coleman was ruled out with a hamstring problem.

20 year-old Hull City right back Brian Lenihan was drafted into the squad as his replacement. It is dizzying times for the Cork man. Only a few months ago he was playing in Turner’s Cross for Cork City now he has signed with a Premier League side and could potentially make his debut for the Republic of Ireland senior team. However, the manger may be cautious to throw the new boy into the mix even though he stated that the Hull defender doesn’t look out of place in the training sessions.

Daryl Murphy will be another player looking to state his claim for a starting place at the Aviva. The Ipswich striker has scored five goals in six games, which has helped his team move into sixth place in the Championship table. The 31 year-old hasn’t started a game for the Republic since his debut against Ecuador in 2007. Since that occasion he has only made appearances from the bench, losing out to Shane Long and Kevin Doyle in partnering the perennial Robbie Keane.

With Germany ahead of them and the desire to qualify for 2016, the Irish squad will recognise that this is an important three points on offer. A slip up on Saturday for a draw, or dare say a loss, will undoubtedly dent the confidence ahead of the clash with the World Champions on Tuesday night.

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.