Republic of Ireland 1 Czech Republic 1: Trap's food for thought – Czech mates Cox and McClean bring Irish back to life
Giovanni Trapattoni may insist that the door to Poznan and Gdansk is virtually closed, but Ireland’s reserves did their best to keep it ajar.
Surely by the time the Italian names his squad, and the next three months of Premier League action have concluded, it will be swinging wide open for the likes of James McClean.
It was the introduction of the former Derry City midfielder which lifted Aviva Stadium from its slumber and provided hope and heart for Irish supporters who have watched another of their own transform from League of Ireland to the world stage.
Leaving it late: Simon Cox levelled the game for Ireland
Rep of Ireland: Given, O’Shea, O’Dea, St Ledger, Ward, Duff (Green 63), Andrews, Whelan (Hunt 63), McGeady (McClean 79), Keane (Walters 71), Long (Cox 71)
Subs not used: Forde, Foley, Duffy, Coleman, McCarthy, Henderson
Scorer: Cox 87
Czech Republic: Cech, Gebre Selassie (Pilar 66), Limbersky, Sivok, Kadlec, Petrzela (Rajtoral 66), Rezek (Pekhart 88), Stajner (Kolar 59), Plasil, Baros (Lafata 59), Jiracek (Hubschman 46)
Subs not used: Drobny, Rajnoch, Pudil
Scorer: Baros 50
Referee: Manuel de Sousa (Portugal)
But the Sunderland winger and fellow substitutes Stephen Hunt, Paul Green, Simon Cox and Jon Walters also provided the spark to rescue Ireland from a potentially embarrassing defeat as the Euro 2012 finals preparations now start to gather pace.
Ireland manager Trapattoni had insisted this week that he was not only sure of the 23 he will be taking to Poland, but he had started to pencil in the starting XI to face Croatia on June 10 too.
Last night was the much-needed reminder that even he may have got that wrong.
Although McClean’s international introduction was over the top — he gained a warm and heartfelt ovation before he had even touched the ball — it was the highlight of a weary night at the Aviva in front of an expectant audience still coming to terms with Ireland’s return to major championships.
He didn’t play a part directly in Cox’s late, late equaliser but his influence on the night and Ireland’s finish cannot be overlooked, even by Trapattoni.
On the run: Robbie Keane breaks away from the Czech Republic defenders
The Italian’s unlikely trump card was
also Ireland’s hero, Cox securing a draw against a patient Czech side
who had soaked up pressure for most of the night and taken the lead just
after half-time through Milan Baros.
West Brom striker Cox, whose
participation at the Hawthorns has also been limited this season,
skipped on to the determined Keith Andrews’ through ball, slipped it
neatly through Tomas Sivok’s legs and then beat Petr Cech at his near
post from near the byline.
It was a lovely goal, and rightly lifted a delighted home crowd who had fallen silent when Baros put the visitors ahead.
Getting there first: Shay Given gets to the ball ahead of Czech Republic's Jiri Stajner
A Czech lead at any point seemed highly unlikely after Ireland had made such a bright start to the game.
The Czech goal was under siege from
the first minute when Aiden McGeady’s neat step-over created space
beyond full-back Theodor Gebre Selassie and he clipped a cross into a
packed area that Shane Long nodded harmlessly into the arms of Cech.
And the visitors responded within a
minute themselves through striker Jiri Stajner, who broke into the Irish
penalty area to meet Jaroslav Plasil’s through ball but toe-poked his
effort straight at Shay Given at his near post.
Heads first: Keith Andrews vies for the ball with Czech Jaroslav Plasil
The Aston Villa goalkeeper’s save with his knees prevented a certain goal.
Although Given had one scare when a
clearance clattered into Jan Rezek, forcing the Irish No 1 to scramble
for the loose ball inside edge of his area, and Darren O’Dea made one
crucial block to deny Baros a clear run on goal, Ireland carried the
main threat for most of the first half.
Damien Duff’s first meaningful run on
the right flank, after he had ridden two illegal challenges, should
have presented Keane or Long with a headed chance but the ball somehow
evaded both of the strikers.
Milan's the man: Czech Republic celebrate the goal by former Liverpool man Baros
Referee Manuel de Sousa missed the
critical touch of Sivok that altered the flight of the cross and guided
it away from the pair.
But Keane should have put the hosts
in front just three minutes later when a searching ball from Andrews
from deep inside the Irish half flew over the Czech back line and into
the Ireland captain’s path.
Keane’s delightful first touch
certainly helped; unfortunately his finish was less precise and he shot
at Cech’s legs before making a mess of the rebound and allowing Sivok
Holding off his man: Keane shields the ball from Tomas Sivok
Sadly, after John O’Shea had managed
to place a Duff cross over the bar in the 20th minute, neither side
created an opportunity of any note before the half-time break although
Andrews and McGeady had long-range efforts blocked and Baros fired a
weak shot at Given.
The Donegal man was also at full stretch to keep out an awkward bouncing shot from Stajner.
The inevitable Mexican wave started halfway through the first period, although even that petered out after a few minutes.
And the mood was hardly helped by
Ireland’s sluggish start to the second half and the shambolic defending
that led to Baros’s opener.
Flying through the air: Shane Long jumps over Czech Republic's Tomas Sivok
How the former Liverpool striker was
left unmarked when Rezek’s reverse pass split the Irish defence, only
O’Shea will really know — the Sunderland defender was AWOL as Baros took
one touch and an eternity before slotting the ball cleverly beyond
Until the introduction of his
substitutes, Trapattoni’s first XI struggled to break down a resilient
Czech backline. As Keane and Long toiled for openings, Andrews and Duff
squandered opportunities from distance.
Handshake: Stephen Hunt shakes hands with Czech Republic's Petr Cech, the two players were involved in an incident in 2006 which lead the to the Chelsea keeper suffering a head injury
The best opportunity actually fell to
O’Dea when he arrived in front of Cech to meet another McGeady centre,
only to head straight at the grateful Chelsea keeper.
Green also went reasonably close from
distance while Plasil was in his own personal battle with Given,
shooting at every opportunity to the Irish keeper’s bemusement.
But the game changed with the introduction of those subs. Now will they have changed Trap’s mind in the process