Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland ups and downs for Martin O'Neill to mull over

Republic of Ireland 2-2 Slovakia

By Daniel McDonnell

Another boring friendly? Not quite. In parts, this was almost too eventful for Martin O'Neill.

With France looming over the horizon, these games could be described as damage limitation exercises, but the first-half was all about damage.

Damage to Rob Elliot, who sustained a knee problem that could end his Euro 2016 ambitions. Shane Long doing damage by earning two penalties and then picking up a knock. And Paul McShane damaging his French prospects with a role in two Slovakian goals.

O'Neill went with a positive formation that could well feature at France this summer, albeit with different personnel in certain areas. Eunan O'Kane came in for a second cap and took the Jeff Hendrick role next to James McCarthy in a midfield diamond with Glenn Whelan defending and Wes Hoolahan attacking.

James McClean was used in a central role supporting Long. He adapted well and linked up with Long for an early break that culminated with the West Brom player stinging the fingers of visiting stopper Matus Kozacik.

Elliot was given a chance in goal to bring his Newcastle form to the international sphere. Disaster struck before the quarter hour mark.

The Republic pressed forward and were caught on the break as McShane's attempt to cut out a Slovakian break and put the ball out for a throw was too slow, allowing Erik Sabo to burst down the right flank.

He squared for Miroslav Stoch who converted with his right foot. In his attempt to shift the weight of his body to save, Elliot twisted his knee and went down.

O'Neill sent for Darren Randolph as Elliott departed.

Seven minutes later, Long turned a slightly overhit O'Kane pass into a good one by sprinting to get in just ahead of Kozacik and secure a dubious spot-kick. He dusted himself down to convert a 16th international goal.

From the restart, Long convinced Norwegian official Ola Ober Nielsen that is worth pointing to the spot again and his case was much stronger as his first touch from a Randolph clearance spun to create a foot race with Martin Skrtel which predictably concluded with a misjudged challenge from the Liverpool man. McClean assumed the duties this time around and netted.

But Slovakia picked their moments to probe with numbers and restored parity just before the interval when Stephen Ward was caught out by a clever ball in behind that released roving right full Peter Pekarik-- his speculative cross was inadvertently converted by the covering McShane.

The second 45 unsurprisingly failed to match the entertainment value of its predecessor. O'Kane featured for another 20 minutes and he always attempted a pass even if taking a liberty led to a Slovak counter and a tame shot that Randolph gathered.

O'Neill rejigged with Anthony Pilkington introduced as a central attacker and Robbie Brady dispatched to the left when the excellent Hoolahan made way for Aiden McGeady.

McClean kept running until the end, but there wouldn't be a late twist.

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