Rep of Ireland 1 Serbia 2: Three talking points
Rep of Ireland 1 Serbia 2: Three talking points as the home side are made to pay for sloppy defending
Chelsea duo appear lethargic at The Aviva
Jose Mourinho spoke about the international break ahead of last weekend’s west London derby win at Fulham, suggesting that his Chelsea squad were feeling the effects of competing on four fronts this season (and an unforgiving Premier League scheduling). The Blues manager hoped that his star players would be given Wednesday night off but Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic were on duty at The Aviva. On the evidence of their performances, though, Mourinho’s argument appeared valid. Serbia captain Ivanovic was at fault for Long’s first-half strike after uncharacteristically failing to take command of a long ball. It resulted in a communication breakdown between the No6 and his centre-half partner Milan Bisevac, allowing Shane Long slotting past Vladimir Stojkovic. The Chelsea defender struggled to cope with Long’s movement and was punished for his overzealous attempts to beat the Hull man in the air, earning a yellow card late on. His Blues colleague Matic was similarly below-par. The Benfica man has been widely hailed since returning to the west London side in January after a series of dominant midfield performances. But the 25-year-old misplaced a few routine passes and was dispossessed in midfield on a couple of occasions. Time to dust down the cobwebs ahead of a tough London derby against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
Life without Keane
With Robbie Keane not part of Martin O’Neill’s squad for the Serbia clash due to his commitments stateside, the Republic of Ireland manager had a chance to play Wes Hoolahan behind Hull City striker Long. We all know what Long provides to the Irish side: energy. The 27-year-old was a tireless runner as he tried to upset Serbia’s centre-half pairing of Bisevac and Ivanovic. It worked, as he capitalised on their error to break the deadlock in the eighth minute. Shortly after, Norwich’s out-of-favour midfielder started to see more of the ball and show the creativity that he can bring to the side. Whilst Hoolahan did lack match sharpness, the former Shelbourne man came close to creating Ireland’s second as his run from his own area carved open Serbia before Long fluffed his chance to net a second. Hoolahan was at his creative best seven minutes after Serbia’s equaliser as he showed superb vision to set Long free but the striker’s attempted chip failed to trouble Stojkovic. Despite Long’s errant finishing, O’Neill will be encouraged by the signs of potential partnership between the pair.
Irish pay the price for mistakes at the back
O’Neill appeared to be heading towards a second win and continuing a three-game unbeaten streak at half-time. Serbia hadn’t turned up and Ireland should have boasted a greater lead but Long failed to add to his early strike. Despite a slender 1-0 lead, the Irish defence had looked susceptible in the first half but toothless Serbia failed to capitalise. It was a different story in the second half as Aleksandar Kolarov cut in from the wing and outmuscled James McClean before his cut back for Filip Dordevic was turned past David Forde by James McCarthy. It was all too easy. By 60 minutes, Serbia had turned the match on its head. Seamus Coleman’s misplaced pass was intercepted by Matic and Dordevic was alert to turn Zoran Tosic’s effort past Forde. After two sloppy goals, it was no surprise that O’Neill opted to tighten his defence by replacing Stephen Ward with Ciaran Clarke. But It could have been any of the back four.