Irish football’s current public enemy number one, Giovanni Trapattoni, gave the fans and media what they wanted with a much changed Irish side – his reward however was a half empty Aviva Stadium and an underserved 1-0 loss to Greece.
Dubbed by the social media twitterati as the “debt” battle, Ireland’s 12th and final game of 2012 ended with their fifth defeat and a year that began with so much promise has limped over the finish line.
Trapattoni has come under fierce criticism since Ireland’s failures at Euro 2012, the fires being stoked further by the 6-1 defeat to Germany last month however the Italian continues to fight on albeit with the comfort of the backing of the FAI.
The fruits of the change in his modus operadi following the FAI’s stern warning that he must attend more live games in England came to the fore tonight with Ciaran Clarke, Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, James McClean, Robbie Brady and Shane Long all starting with David Forde coming in following the late withdrawal of Kieran Westwood.
The new look side made a promising start with Coleman, Brady and the keen McClean all out to impress. Ireland were comfortable on the ball and were passing it around with much aplomb without troubling the Greeks too much.
Two early penalty appeals were waved away with the first, a clear handball by Konstantinos Stafylidis in the opening minute, a real let off for the visitors.
Simon Cox should have done better when he got on the end of a wonderful cross by Coleman but the Nottingham Forest man headed well wide.
Ireland’s start was reminiscent of the opening 20 minutes of their clash with Germany last month and much like that game where the Germans grew in confidence after stemming the Irish challenge, the Greek’s held off the challenge to take the lead against the run of play on 29 minutes.
Celtic striker Georgios Samaras was the orchestrator turning Konstantinos Mitroglou’s pass into the path of Jose Holebas, who turned John O’Shea and hit a low shot into the bottom corner of Forde’s goal.
The goal rocked Ireland and they struggled to get to grasps with the game for the remainder of the first half with Shane Long and Ciaran Clarke booked for clumsy challenges as Ireland’s frustrations grew.
Clarke in particular was lucky to stay on the field for a particular nasty sliding tackle however the Aston Villa defender got away with a stern word from the referee as well as the yellow card. While Clarke may have been lucky, less so was Glenn Whelan who was forced off with a leg injury to be replaced by Keith Andrews.
The half came to close with Brady testing the reflexes of Karnezis but the keeper was equal to the on loan Hull man’s effort.
The second half saw another one of those that fans had clambered for with Norwich star Wes Hoolahan coming on for Brady. The other half time change saw Long depart for Kevin Doyle.
The move meant a change in formation with Hoolahan playing off the Wolves forward and the Euro 2012 experiment that saw Cox deployed out to the left wing revisited.
James McCarthy went close early in the second half but for all Ireland’s neat build up play there was no final product, the night’s endeavour summed up by the performance of James McClean.
The Sunderland winger was eager to get involved at every opportunity but lacked the killer final cross to create chances with his night culminating with an effort on 73 minutes that went well over the Greek goal.
In the end while there was no Greek tragedy a draw would have been fair result however with Sweden, our next World cup qualifying opponents showing their potential with a stunning 4-2 win over England Trapattoni has a lot of work to do between now and March.