Six Points and Pints.

Six Points and Pints.

Well that was tough.

Raised eyebrows, puffed out cheeks and fans mouthing ‘thank f**k that's over’, I saw it all in the Aviva and in the pub during two of the most nervous wrecking fixtures I've watched Ireland battle through.

Georgia at home and Moldova away, six points easy….no problem. It was difficult to disagree with even the most cocksure of Ireland fans, in their assessment of last week's double-header.

However with a few of my green shirted mates seemingly still drunk from our summer in France, it was increasingly difficult not to get whipped up into the post-Euros positivity, and for once I ignored my usual cynicism and began to dream again.

By the time kick off had rolled around for the Georgia game, I had forgotten how bad the Serbia away match was, dismissing it a tough opener, crap pitch, buckets of rain etc.

Sure we would hammer Georgia, don't we always?

However the Boys In Green had a real surprise in store at the Aviva, with a few of them looking as though they'd been out with us on Harcourt Street the night before, as Georgia began to dominate the first half.

As a team that loves to do things the hard way, Ireland reached new heights of self-destruction, panicking on the ball and allowing Georgia the freedom of Lansdowne Road. As usual in these situations Ireland forgot all the positivity of their summer performances, based on ball retention and hard work, and went back to the dark ages. Firing long diagonal balls incessantly to Jon Walters and hitting the ball aimlessly into the channels for Shane Long to run himself into the ground.

Somewhere Jack Charlton was smiling and whispering ‘that's it boys, that's the stuff’.

Martin O'Neill must have handed out a half time rollicking as Ireland emerged for the second half more enthused about their task, with James McClean full of energy and Shane Duffy heading clear anything that came within a kilometre of him.

After much huffing and puffing Seamus Coleman managed to play a few one-twos with Georgian defenders and nick a goal and the Aviva erupted.

That's it, now go and finish it off. PLEASE.

No chance, a final fifteen minutes of hanging on and hoping that ‘yer man, No.10 doesn't get a shot at Randolph’s goal, finally the whistle went.

Relief…..sweet sweet relief.

And so the post mortem began back down on Dame Street, with everyone avoiding the obvious elephant in the room, and so unfortunately the responsibility to speak up fell to me. 

‘Listen lads that was bad, really bad. Play that badly again and you may take that Russian phrase book back to Easons. Simple.’

Nobody wanted to overly agree, I got a few nods and grunts, before realising I was the loudest person in the pub and sat down.

A few Jameson's later and the mood improved, and talk turned to Moldova on Sunday night. Easy.

My positivity had fully returned by Sunday, and after Googling ‘Chisinau’ a few times I was certain of three points and being able to bear work until the Austria game. 

Everything started so brilliantly, Wes back in the team and bang Shane Long puts us 1-0 up after two minutes. Suddenly Ireland were passing the ball to each other, instead of just whacking it in the hopeful direction of a green jersey, just that second goal lads, come on. 

Then all of sudden that curse, or that poltergeist, or whatever it is that whispers in the ears of the Ireland team and says ‘listen lads, don't be making this too easy. There are Moldovans here as well ya know.’

And as if by magic, Duffy come to head a ball that was already behind him, and the Moldovans are in to score.

1-1. Against Moldova.

By this stage everything was running low; inspiration, patience, Guinness, money, the lot. Surely O'Neill would send them out with a flea in the ear and the Georgia mistakes would not be repeated. Oh me of little faith.

More panicking, pained looks and passes borne out of desperation. Admittedly Moldova were forced to defend more than the Georgians, but Ireland continued to lack penetration in attack as the clock ticked down.

On 69 minutes, enter James McClean, to steer home a loose ball inside the box and put Ireland back in the driving seat. Not a man known for calmness, McClean kept his head brilliantly to score and popped up again to seal the win seven minutes later. 

Time to relax and put my thoughts back together.

The eternal positivity repeated to me over the last 48 hours is that six points is exactly that and things could be much worse for the Boys in Green.

However the tension and the lack of ideas across the board has left me feeling underwhelmed and eyeing the fixtures list with concern.

Too many constants remain within the side to allay my concerns. Shane Long is the only significant goal threat, and without Hoolahan in behind him he struggles to receive the right ammunition, despite the best efforts of Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick in midfield. They were both missed against Moldova, as Glenn Whelan looks a spent force and James McCarthy continues to look inconsistent in an Ireland jersey.

Walters remains a threat, but out on the wing his influence is diminished, limited primarily to closing down defenders and feeding off scraps.

In defence Duffy took a big step forward in the Georgia game, only to struggle against Moldova alongside Ciaran Clark. Neither of them look ready to take over from John O’Shea as defensive leader, and Richard Keogh arguably remains more consistent for Ireland than either of them.

Plenty of issues of O'Neill took look at ahead of the Austria game next month, another uninspiring performance could result in a sound beating but Ireland have had their warning.

 

By Feargal Brennan

Feargal is a football journalist, based in Liverpool covering the Merseyside Big Two. Also writer of tactical and feature pieces on Ireland and La Liga.

Follow him on twitter - @feargalbren