Five Things From Estonia 0 Ireland 4...

There had been plenty of Irish negativity in the weeks before the play-off and Paul Little had his doubts - but he saw a different kind of 4-4-2 that actually works...

Last Updated: 14/11/11 at 11:54 Post Comment

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1) A word for the old guard

It was fitting in many ways to see our record international goalscorer and captain polish off the Estonians. Keane, for all his critics - like his senior colleagues like Dunne, Duff and Given - has always been available for friendlies and competitive fixtures alike, in the good times and most importantly in the bad. For these lads, playing for Ireland means something - and it's not likely to be based on any windfall they experience from endorsements. They set an example to others and deserve one more appearance at the top table.

2) A 4-4-2 that works

In my preview to the game last week, I questioned not only Giovanni Trapattoni's inflexibility when it came to his chosen formation, but also his inflexibility in terms of how it was seen to operate. On Friday night, we at last saw some positive developments on the theme in an attacking sense, largely revolving around Jon Walters and Keith Andrews. Walters had an excellent game and gave a fine lesson on how to lead the line. Estonia found his physicality, movement and power difficult to cope with. He held the ball up very well, brought teammates into the game, ran the channels and harried and hassled the Estonian rearguard with impressive effectiveness. And he capped a fine night with the critical second goal. Shane Long and Kevin Doyle should take note, and both will need to up their games to shift him from the side.

Walters was only pipped to the man of the match award by Keith Andrews, who surely had his best game in the green shirt. Every once in a while you just get a glimpse of the good player that Andrews could be. In many ways he seems to have the tools - but perhaps there's a lack of self-belief that sees him play cautiously and within himself, taking the easy option, almost hiding behind the Trap method. On Friday, Andrews' performance was central to Ireland's impressive display. For 4-4-2 to work in an attacking sense, you need to have players from midfield supporting and getting beyond the front men. Too often in the past, Ireland's central midfielders - perhaps under orders from above - have offered little in any attacking sense. Against Estonia, Andrews seemed to have the shackles taken off. And how Ireland profited. His opener was illustrative of the point - and it was refreshing to see him and indeed Damien Duff getting ahead of Keane and Walters into the box to try and get on the end of Aiden McGeady's fine delivery.

Andrews' more positive positioning also gave Ireland's midfield a greater depth from back to front. Whelan and Andrews have played more often than not in a flat formation, almost side by side, where both can be taken out of the game by a single pass. On Friday, they never looked in that danger. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

3) For all our limitations, teams won't want to draw Ireland

A highly organised side with a serious sense of purpose, buckets of character, a palpable team spirit and an impressive work ethic will make the Irish an unpalatable draw for most sides in the Euro 2012 tournament proper. Trapattoni, his staff and the players deserve great credit for this. The disappointment of Paris two years ago would have demoralised and disillusioned many, but the Irish and their Italian manager got up off their knees, dusted themselves down, fought back and have gained their just reward.

4) Trapattoni's future in no doubt

Trappatoni was hired on a hefty retainer to do a job. And come 9.30pm on Tuesday night, he will surely have delivered. On that basis, and given the windfall his achievement will surely bring to the FAI, he must surely be offered a new contract. The brand of football may not inspire kids to run out on the streets and kick a ball, but the pride and excitement of seeing an Irish side competing again at the top table will.

5) That said, the Russia games...

...still give me cause for concern and trepidation as we prepare for the trip to Poland and the Ukraine. As I explained in my preview to the play-off ties, Ireland have been outnumbered, outmanned and outmanoeuvred in midfield by sides playing fluid 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 formations - with our two group games with the Russians being the most unsettling examples . Beating Estonia did little to really suggest that this problem has gone away, as our opponents more or less went toe to toe with us in terms of formation. There are much bigger tests to come, and we need to show greater tactical flexibility to cope.

Paul Little

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