Martin O’Neill says he expects his players to push on again when the “big stuff” starts in March but in the meantime the Republic of Ireland continues to take consolation from the fact that the river of goals conceded in those defeats painful by Denmark and Wales has dried up.
“We were playing against Denmark away from home and they are full of confidence at the moment after doing well in the World Cup and qualifying from this league,” he said after seeing his side secure a third scoreless draw in four games. “We were strong defensively tonight and the chances that Denmark had were probably of our own doing.
“Since the Welsh game, I think we have had to tighten up defensively, I think we have done that but now we have to fix things at the other end.”
In the face of repeated questions about the miserable run of just one win in 11 games that his side is on, the 66 year-old again insisted that he is determined to be the one who turns things around. “Enthusiasm, as Alex Ferguson once said to a group of us, is everything and I’ve had an abundance of that over the course of my career both as a manager and a player. It has never waned. Never waned.”
O’Neill again argued that the statistics have to be viewed in terms of what he feels were the tough games that he willingly took on. France certainly merits that description and Poland would if they had looked more concerned with wining the game themselves but the concern perhaps centres on the likes of Northern Ireland at home when better must surely have been expected.
Clearly, though, the competitive results have been the real problem and he himself would have baulked beforehand, one suspects, at the suggestion that Ireland would manage just two points from four games in this three team group with both of the draws against Denmark the product of deeply defensive displays.
Asked if he could remember a game in which his side had been given so few problems by their opponents, Denmark manager Age Hareide paused for just a moment before answering: “No.”
“But they choose their tactics and when you play against them it is hard to because you have to guard against the counterattack,” he said, softening the impact only a little.
“Even though we got so many chances, they defended well. It suits us better when teams come and try to attack us but then that’s the same for every team. And to be a top team we should wins game like this.”
The Danes should, he insisted, have won the game but, he observed: “It was the kind of match that we expected. Ireland defended low (deep) and we had a lot of the ball. We created chances but despite working hard to break through for 90 minutes we couldn’t do it. We had chances to win the game but you have to score to do it; that’s something we have to work even harder on.”.
“There is not much we can do except to look forward to next year.”
He will do so with higher expectations than his opposite number but O’Neill will surely be glad to see the back of 2018 nonetheless.