Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ireland 0 Slovakia 0

Ireland's hopes of automatic qualification for Euro 2012 are in the balance after an abject 0-0 draw with Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium.

The home side produced a nervous and sloppy display that allowed the visitors to control possession and territory.

A number of fine saves from Shay Given and a Sean St Ledger block on Marek Hamsik made sure the visitors left with just one point.

Richard Dunne could have snatched an undeserved winner but he failed to make a good connection with Stephen Hunt's cross in injury-time.

Slovakia got the point they came for and they could have had all three but for some last-ditch defending by the home side, which ensured a record sixth successive clean sheet.

Russia are next up for Ireland on Tuesday and on the evidence of this, Dick Advocaat's side will be confident of taking the three points.

A late booking for St Ledger means he misses the trip to Moscow, giving Trapattoni a further problem ahead of a crucial tie.

Shane Long's calf strain saw Trapattoni revert to his tried and trusted front two of Keane and Doyle, while Stephen Ward took Kevin Kilbane's place at left-back for his first competitive start.

Hamsik started for Slovakia despite pre-match doubts about the captain's fitness, but danger man Robert Vittek had to make do with a place on the bench.

Doyle's initial omission had caused some surprise but he seemed lethargic and was replaced by Simon Cox midway through the second half.

It was a game full of grunt but lacking in guile. There were more stray passes than incisive ones, with almost all of the neat touches coming from the men in blue.

Slovakia began with their traditional counter-attack style, but began to play more in Irish territory as the half wore on and they sussed out what they were up against.

Ireland were grateful to Ward and Dunne for two goal-saving tackles, while Given did well to keep out Miroslav Stoch's shot and a glancing header from Filip Holosko.

The visitors were also cheered on by vocal support in the north stand, leading one Irish fan to aggressively encourage those around him to respond. His pleas went unanswered.

One sloppy pass apart, it was Duff who was once again Ireland's main source of danger.

Jan Mucha was finally called into action on 38 minutes. A clever one-two between Duff and Keith Andrews saw the winger draw a fine parry from the Everton keeper.

Referee Pedro Garcia's whistle was a nagging feature of the opening 45 minutes, but most were glad to hear him call for half-time.

Slovakia were the first to threaten after the break as Stoch picked out Vladimir Weiss. His shot took a slight deflection and slipped past the far post.

Moments later at the other end, Duff found space after coming inside and linking with McGeady, but his shot flew over Mucha's cross bar.

St Ledger ensured a dominant Slovakia stayed scoreless when he threw himself in front of Hamsik to deny the skipper an opener after a slip-up by Dunne.

Cox's introduction had little effect as Weiss ghosted past a static Irish defence. Ward cleared for a corner with Holosko threatening.

If there was one Irishman you would want a chance to fall to, it would be Keane. Yet he wasted the opportunity to score his 52nd international goal.

The skipper drifted off Martin Skrtel as Duff's cross made its way over. Keane's header lacked the class that we have come to expect from him and cleared the bar.

Keane then turned creator by controlling Dunne's punt downfield and finding Cox. The striker twisted away from his markers but shot wide with Andrews free on the overlap.

Stephen Hunt was introduced to big cheers with five minutes remaining and many will wonder why he was given so little time to make an impact.

It was his cross that picked out the unmarked Dunne, who somehow got under the ball as it dropped perfectly for him.

Ireland: 1 Given; 4 O'Shea, 2 St Ledger, 5 Dunne, 3 Ward; 7 McGeady, 6 Whelan, 8 Andrews, 11 Duff; 9 Doyle (18 Cox '64), 10 Keane.

Subs not used: 16 Westwood, 12 Foley, 13 O'Dea, 14 Lawrence, 15 Hunt, 17 Keogh, 18 Cox.

Booked: Dunne, St Ledger.

Slovakia: 1 Mucha; 2 Pekarik, 3 Skrtel, 4 Durica, 5 Cech; 6 Karhan, 19 Kucka (21 Guede '77); 17 Hamsik, 10 Stoch; 7 Weiss (18 Jendrisek '85), 13 Holosko (11 Vittek '88).

Subs not used: 12 Putnocky, 8 Jez, 9 Stesak, 14 Michalik.

Booked: Kucka, Skrtel.

Referee: Pedro Garcia (Portugal).