Belfast Telegraph

Weakened Republic team deliver encouraging signs

Poland 1 Rep of Ireland 1

By Daniel McDonnell

There's an old saying about bad things happening in threes, but Martin O'Neill avoided that fate in Wroclaw last night.

Indeed, this could be the exercise which leads the Republic of Ireland boss to con­clude that three is the magic number for his side.

After a thrashing in Cardiff and the damage of the leaked WhatsApp audio, there were fears that an under­strength travelling team would suffer another punch to the gut in Poland.

They did suffer late frustration when Mateusz Klich's leveller prevented O'Neill's charges from securing a shock win against a close to full-strength Polish team - Robert Lewandowski was the main excep­tion.

However, this was a much more coherent Irish performance, and the reversion to a 3-5-2 formation suited the personnel at O'Neill's disposal. They only really lost their way when substitutions removed key cogs.

The important caveat is that Poland were not at the races at all and large parts of this encounter were played a pedestrian pace.

When the hosts rose from their slumber in the dying stages, the Republic were hanging on. But there were fears that this eventful September double-header would finish on a much more sombre note.

O'Neill and Roy Keane will be able to take positives away from the trip.

New boy Aiden O'Brien enjoyed a magic second-half moment to put the Irish ahead, and the best part of the system was an improvement in midfield, where the composure of Shaun Williams and the creativity of Callum O'Dowda next to Jeff Hen­drick gave the visitors a much better bal­ance.

There is an argument that the formation might not suit some of the Republic's better first-choice players, although O'Neill is yet to test it in a game of substance. The tempta­tion must be there to dabble in next month's double-header with Den­mark and Wales that has significance which goes beyond the Uefa Nations League. This exercise will be long forgotten if those matches go badly, but the signs of life are a major boost for the under-fire management team.

After a build-up centred around a civil war of sorts, this was very much friendly fare.

Indeed, in comparison to the acri­monious preliminaries, there were parts of the first half that were posi­tively serene.

Poland had fielded a strong side, yet they were strangely subdued and, it must be said, not overly energetic when it came to closing down.

O'Neill made six changes from Car­diff, with three of them enforced by injury. The shape changed to a 3-5-2 with first international starts for Enda Stevens, Williams and O'Brien.

They were all prominent in spells where the Republic retained possession competently, with Williams conduct­ing from a deep-lying midfield role.

Stevens and Cyrus Christie were the wing backs, with Matt Doherty a frustrated spectator. Hendrick and O'Dowda were tasked with trying to get forward. There was even one pur­poseful drive in the area from Hen­drick that provided a brief reminder of what he can do.

Ultimately though, chances were scarce and there was a lot of shadow boxing, with the crowd that had belted their way through the anthem worn down into Mexican waves from the early minutes.

Poland's best opportunity came when Stevens was caught unbalanced by a long throw and Arkadi­usz Milik nodded wide. Beyond that, there was a shortage of incident to truly justify the need for action replays.

The Republic changed that from the restart and lifted the urgency levels to punish Polish lethargy. O'Dowda was the main factor, a winger by trade who seemed to enjoy his brief in the centre, and his change of pace and shot tested Wociech Szcezesny.

The Bristol City player's confidence levels were up and, just as O'Neill was preparing to replace Christie, the Ful­ham player forced a corner.

It was cleared, but the visitors retained possession, with Hendrick's build-up play followed by a superb flick and cross from O'Dowda that was headed in at the near post by O'Brien.

O'Neill made a double switch, send­ing in Doherty and David Meyler for Christie and Hendrick. Graham Burke would follow in place of Robinson.

The Wroclaw crowd was growing a little restless, with a home debut for new boss Jerzy Brzeczek developing into an anti-climax. He made six substitutions but star man Lewandowski stayed sitting.

O'Neill mixed up his options and an unlikely front duo of Daryl Hor­gan and Burke finished the game up front, and that invited pressure which ultimately yielded Klich's 87th minute equaliser.

POLAND: Szczesny, Kedziora, Glik (Bednarek, 61 mins), Kaminski, Reca (Pietrzak, 73 mins), Blaszczykowski (Frankowski, 81 mins), Krychowiak (Szymanski, 72 mins), Linetty, Kurzawa (Kadzior, 46 mins),Milik, Piatek (Klich, 61 mins). Unused subs: Skorupski, Goralski, Lewandowski, Dzwigala, Bereszynski, Fabianski.

REP OF IRELAND: Randolph, Keogh, Egan, K Long, Christie (Doherty, 55 mins),O'Dowda (Judge, 90 mins), Williams (Hourihane, 72 mins), Hendrick (Meyler, 56 mins),Stevens, Robinson (Burke, 63 mins),O'Brien (Horgan, 81 mins). Unused subs: Doyle, Duffy, Clark, Curtis, McDermott.

Referee: Boris Marhefka (Slovakia).

Man of the match: Callum O'Dowda

Match rating: 6/10

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