Questions must be asked about the point of this friendly just four days before the Republic of Ireland’s first qualifying game for Euro 2016 against Georgia. Martin O’Neill took no risks in his selection and picked 11 players that are unlikely to feature from the start in Tbilisi. Friendlies are about learning more about his players and ironing out tactical issues before their competitive games. Little will have been learned by O’Neill and his staff; most of the players won’t feature in competitive games. Oman provided such abject opposition that didn’t offer anything to raise Ireland’s efforts in the friendly. In return, the hosts didn’t get out of first gear and were happy to keep the ball in what must have felt like a training exercise. Although Ireland and Oman are separated by just one place in the Fifa world rankings (66 and 67 respectively), this was a mismatch. There are tough games to come for Ireland, with three of their first four games coming away from home in their group. Taking this into account, playing Oman feels like a wasted exercise.
As expected, Oman sat deep throughout the game, allowing the Irish to have plenty of possession. With nine men behind the ball almost all of the time, it was up to Ireland to break down a side that were set up to limit the hosts at all costs. As a result, the returning Darron Gibson and Stephen Quinn saw a lot of the ball in midfield. Their lack of quality was evident from the start, as Ireland passed the ball from side to side with no penetration. Quinn worked tirelessly and showed for the ball constantly, but he rarely ventured forward. In his first game back in a year, Gibson was unimpressive. It was clear he didn’t have the legs to get around after his injury. It was no coincidence that Ireland’s rare chances came from crosses, as their lack of creativity meant it was their only way of testing Oman’s defence. Kevin Doyle and Alex McCarthy scored the hosts’s goals at The Aviva – and both were the result of corners. Their other rare openings materialised after they got the ball out wide. O’Neill will hope the return of James McCarthy on Sunday will bring some much-needed improvement in midfield.
The Irish manager can take some positives from the tie. First of all, winning games is important for any squad and O’Neill’s side haven’t tasted victory since his first game in charge against Latvia almost a year ago. Since then, Ireland have played six games, drawing three and losing the other three. In their last outing, Ireland were trashed by Portugal 5-1 just before the World Cup. All teams thrive on confidence, and in this sense Oman were the ideal opponents. When Kevin Doyle scored, the result was guaranteed. Oman had no shots in anger in the game whatsoever, so it was then a question of whether Ireland would add to their lead. Secondly, when the Irish substitutes came on, their play improved no end. The introduction of attacking trio Shane Long, Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady spurred on Ireland, injecting some pace into the attack. In particular, McGeady added some directness and creativity that was lacking before his arrival. Twice he came close to scoring, hitting the bar with a lovely curling effort. It was the sort of quality that will be expected of Ireland from the start when McGeady and the rest of the Irish first-team return to the line-up on Sunday.
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