The Republic of Ireland’s UEFA Nations League campaign has started with a 4-1 defeat to Wales.
Tom Lawrence, Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, and Conor Roberts grabbed the goals for Ryan Giggs’s men, with Shaun Williams scoring a consolation goal for the Boys in Green.
We examine the main talking points from a dismal night in Cardiff…
Quite the contrast compared to Ireland’s last defensive display in Cardiff.
It took Wales just six minutes to open the scoring in Ryan Giggs’ first game in charge, with Tom Lawrence finding the net after an excellent pass from Joe Allen.
Ciaran Clark was caught napping by Allen’s incisive pass, and Darren Randolph will be disappointed to have been beaten at his near post.
Wales doubled their advantage in the 18th minute after Gareth Bale’s wonderful strike, but the defending left a lot to be desired.
Clark allowed Bale – picked out brilliantly by Ben Davies – to cut inside on to his favoured left foot, and there was only ever going to be one outcome when the Real Madrid start unleashed a strike from 20 yards.
The hosts carved Martin O’Neill’s men open again in the 37th minute, with Aaron Ramsey applying the finish after Ethan Ampadu robbed Jon Walters of possession in the build-up.
Swansea starlet Conor Roberts scored his first international goal with a delightful half-volley after being picked out by Bale in the 55th minute, and the home side carved the Boys in Green open time and time again.
Shane Duffy struggled, Clark was woeful, and Stephen Ward – earning his 50th cap – was also extremely poor on the night.
Williams gets off the mark
Shaun Williams’ first international goal was the highlight of the night from an Irish perspective.
The Millwall midfielder replaced the ineffective Conor Hourihane in the 55th minute, and showed good composure to punish a mistake from Ramsey 11 minutes later.
The 31-year-old produced a delightful dink over Wayne Hennessy, and must be pushing for a start against Poland.
Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick were both largely anonymous in the game, and Williams deserves more game time in Saturday’s friendly.
Ireland were completely outplayed and outfought in midfield, managing just 37% possession, and allowing Wales far too much time on the ball.
The Boys in Green seem to struggle to retain possession no matter who starts in central midfield, and O’Neill may offer the likes of Williams and Preston’s Alan Browne the chance to stake a claim in upcoming matches.
Tonight’s substitute appearance earned Williams just his second cap, and the Championship midfielder will be eger for more opportunities in the near future.
Robinson makes competitive debut
Callum Robinson was handed a start just behind Jon Walters up front.
The Preston attacker had a great chance in the first half to mark his competitive debut with a goal, but was unable to produce the required finish.
Seamus Coleman picked him out in the box in the first half with a pull back, but Robinson’s shot flew over the bar when he should have at least hit the target.
However, the 23-year-old looked lively, and whipped one excellent cross into the box in the first half.
Overall, he was one of Ireland’s stronger performers.
Given Ireland’s lack of attacking options, Robinson looks like he could eventually become an important player over the coming years.
Pressure mounts on the Irish management
It has been a difficult few weeks for the Irish management team.
Martin O’Neill has had to deal with the Declan Rice situation, and has admitted that Roy Keane’s training ground altercation with Harry Arter may have played a part in the midfielder’s decision to withdraw from the squad.
Tonight’s game in Cardiff offered the chance to create headlines of a different nature, but the dismal result and performance has merely added to the negativity around the team.
The team’s style continues to draw critics, and tonight’s hammering was the last thing the management needed in the first competitive game since that Denmark defeat in Dublin.
O’Neill conceded after tonight’s game that Ireland were second best all night.
“We were well beaten. It was a difficult game for us,” he admitted to RTÉ Sport after the game.
“Wales were better than us. They possess a world class player in Gareth Bale along with some other exceptional Premier League players.
“They can play a bit and we were second best.”
Next up for the Boys in Green is a friendly against Poland in Wroclaw on Tuesday, while Wales face Denmark in their second Nations League clash.
Ryan Gigg’s team will face a hugely under strength Denmark outfit unless the current dispute between the players and the DUB is resolved, and will be confident of making it six points from six.