Late first half goal sees the Republic calm their nerves
|2||Rep. of Ireland||6||3||2||1||5||2||8|
Northern Ireland knew before the game that their 2-1 home defeat against Hungary five weeks earlier had made sure they would not qualify for Italia ’90. Still, they would not wish to go down lightly in a clash with their Irish rivals. The home side knew that a win would all but qualify them, as Hungary still had to play Spain twice, whereas Eire’s final match was away to lowly Malta. And the Republic had been invincible at home so far in the qualifiers, with three wins and no goals conceded. Surely, they would take this opportunity to more or less secure their tickets for next summer’s event in Italy?
On the night that the Ulstermen had hosted Hungary, the Republic had welcomed West Germany to Dublin in a friendly that had ended one apiece. Frank Stapleton had scored the Irish goal. Paul McGrath, with Aston Villa since the summer, had featured against the Germans, but was now out injured, and a few other starters from the game against West Germany were also omitted from the team that took to the field for kick-off in the all Irish affair. Eire’s starting eleven had an average age of 28,5 years, despite the inclusion of 20 year old Liverpool full-back Steve Staunton. The players had 277 caps between them. Kevin Moran had sat out the league match at the weekend having taken a knock to his back in Sporting Gijón’s previous game, but he had reassured everyone by saying he is perfectly well. It would take an awful lot to keep him away from a game of this magnitude. A surprise inclusion on the Irish bench: Le Havre’s eccentric forward John Byrne, who was in line for making his first appearance of these qualifiers.
Billy Bingham had some issues regarding the goalkeeper’s position. He had been using West Ham’s Allen McKnight and Newcastle’s Tommy Wright so far in the qualification, but the former had been made more or less redundant in London (though still on the bench here) and the other was out injured, which paved the way for Linfield’s 33 year old George Dunlop. He would feature for the first time since a 2-1 home defeat to Yugoslavia two and a half years earlier, and he would win his fourth cap. Other than that, Man United defender Mal Donaghy returned to the side after having missed the Hungary match through injury. Still missing was John McClelland, who had started the qualification campaign as the Northern Ireland captain. He had transfered from Watford to Leeds in the summer, and was out until spring with injury. Luton’s young winger Kingsley Black had been left out of the 16 man matchday squad, so it meant another starting opportunity for Wolves’ Robbie Dennison. Motherwell’s 26 year old midfielder Colin O’Neill won a place on the bench, having previously not featured during the qualification.
The morning had seen rain, but during the day the rain had been replaced by drier weather, so conditions appeared to be perfect. Some of the players had said that they thought perhaps the grass was a trifle long, but other than that the pitch looked to be in very good nick. And what must have gone through the mind of the Italian referee as he was about to whistle the match into action? He knew he was in for a cultural clash compared to his domestic duties.
Kick-off time was set to 1pm. Lansdowne Road was not foreign to early afternoon kick-offs, but the Irish were in a World Cup frenzy by now, and a lot of people had been given half the day off from work. The stadium was not equipped with floodlights, so this played a big role in the game kicking off so early.
Rep of Ireland (4-4-2)
|1 Packie Bonner||29||Celtic|
|2 Chris Morris||81′||25||Celtic|
|3 Steve Staunton||sub 78′||20||Liverpool|
|4 Mick McCarthy (c)||30||Lyon|
|5 Kevin Moran||33||Sporting Gijón|
|6 Ronnie Whelan||28||Liverpool|
|7 Andy Townsend||26||Norwich|
|8 Ray Houghton||27||Liverpool|
|9 John Aldridge||76′||31||Real Sociedad|
|10 Tony Cascarino||27||Millwall|
|11 Kevin Sheedy||29||Everton|
|12 David O’Leary||on 78′||31||Arsenal|
|13 Frank Stapleton||33||Blackburn|
|14 Niall Quinn||23||Arsenal|
|15 John Byrne||28||Le Havre|
|16 Gerry Peyton||33||Bournemouth|
Northern Ireland (4-5-1)
|1 George Dunlop||33||Linfield|
|2 Gary Fleming||22||Manchester City|
|3 Nigel Worthington||32′||27||Sheffield Wednesday|
|4 Mal Donaghy||32||Manchester United|
|5 Alan McDonald||25||QPR|
|6 David McCreery||sub 72′||32||Hearts|
|7 Danny Wilson||29||Luton|
|8 Michael O’Neill||sub 80′||20||Dundee United|
|9 Colin Clarke||26||QPR|
|10 Norman Whiteside (c)||2′||24||Everton|
|11 Robbie Dennison||25||Wolverhampton|
|12 Allen McKnight||25||West Ham|
|13 Anton Rogan||23||Celtic|
|14 Jimmy Quinn||29||Bradford|
|15 Colin O’Neill||on 72′||26||Motherwell|
|16 Kevin Wilson||on 80′||28||Chelsea|
Ireland line up in a very customary 4-4-2. There’s little tinkering from Charlton. They knock it long for Cascarino, trying to get Aldridge to chase his knock-ons. Sheedy’s expected to deliever crosses from the left, while Houghton’s a more unorthodox type of winger, chasing everything and often trying to get in behind the opposition defence.
Bingham again uses his central defenders more or less in man-marking capacities: McDonald on Cascarino, Donaghy on Aldridge. Neither side has very adventurous full-backs. Whiteside sits rather deep with McCreery in midfield, with O’Neill almost operating as a second striker behind the tall figure of Clarke, who, like Cascarino down the other end, has a lot of long, hopeful balls hit towards him from the back. He often does well against Moran in what is an interesting battle. On the right hand side Danny Wilson’s a bit like what the Republic have in Houghton: not your outright winger, more a player who likes to cut inside and participate in central areas. However, Wilson’s not as direct as Houghton, and lacks the capability to run in behind a defence. His feet don’t carry him around quickly enough. On the opposite flank Dennison is being kept well in tow by Morris.
It takes a minute and a half for the referee to produce the first yellow card, and it is Whiteside who wins it following a nasty challenge on Houghton inside the centre circle. It is clear that there’s a lot of tension among the players, although the atmosphere in the stands is very good natured. The home support appears to be very confident. The Italian referee originally whistles only for a free-kick after Whiteside’s clattering of the home player, but having given it a few seconds of consideration, he decided it was probably best to show that he does not tolerate any kind of foul play. Not that the Northern Irish number 10’s crime is so vicious; more that a southern European referee will have wanted to convey to the surroundings that “he’s here”.
A feature of the first half is the aerial challenges between McDonald, 26 tomorrow, in the Northern Irish defence and Cascarino. The Republic have been aiming it long for Cascarino’s head throughout the qualifiers, but in the big QPR defender Cascarino seems to have met his match. There is very little to choose between them. At the other end, Clarke is up against Moran, another feisty and very combative battle, and the two Northern Irishmen give as good as they get; they are no inferior to the major favourites. As will be remembered from the encounter between these two in Belfast, Bingham more or less uses his central defenders as man markers. Back then it had been McClelland with McDonald. This time Donaghy has the job to keep Aldridge quiet. This is the normally prolific Liverpool forward’s 27th international. The previous 26 have yielded one single goal.
In midfield, Northern Ireland are using McCreery and Whiteside centrally, with the eager Michael O’Neill just ahead of them as first line of support for lone striker Clarke. Whiteside might feel a bit hampered by his early caution, and a couple of the Irish players try to unsettle him even further. Cascarino is a bit late in a challenge, but the Everton midfield man doesn’t let his temper go. Townsend and, in particular, Whelan seem composed for the home side, where nerves eventually begin to settle. However, against a stubborn Northern Irish defence they are unable to create much despite the ever energetic Houghton running his socks off wide right yet again. Having taken that initial challenge from Whiteside, Houghton is again the victim when Worthington takes him out by the sideline before nine minutes is played. Another yellow card? No. The ref keeps the card in his pocket on this occasion. There’s shouts of durision against Worthington, who even has a tin can thrown after him. He picks it up and hands it over to the referee. 7-Up, is it?
Without an international appearance for so long, it is important for Ulster goalkeeper Dunlop to get a good start, in order to install some confidence in his play. And he doesn’t look out of place, even if an early punch perhaps does not go entirely after plan. He is not the tallest of ‘keepers, something which perhaps the Irish can take advantage of?
There is very little goalmouth action until Michael O’Neill comes close to opening the scoring on 25 minutes: Clarke wins a header against Moran after a long ball by Worthington from inside his own half. However, as the 20 year young starlet uses his impressive balance to hold off the challenge of McCarthy, he gets too close to Bonner, who has the ball ricocheting off his leg, and the Irish captain can clear off the goalline and into touch. And immediately there’s another big opportunity for the visitors, when O’Neill’s in the thick of the action again, taking on Fleming’s throw and crossing it into the middle, where Bonner can not make proper contact. Dennison appears to have a gaping goal to aim at, but he can not get a shot away and McCarthy can once again clear. The Republic of Ireland have just escaped two major scares, and the crowd comes to life, trying to encourage their players into more forward action.
Aldridge will win a couple of free-kicks after unfair challenges by Donaghy, but they are still unable to threaten Dunlop’s goal. Then Worthington finally gets his warning when he takes too much time over a throw-in deep inside of his own half. The Italian referee is doing a good job of being more or less invisible, but perhaps this was a bit harsh?
There’s honest battles all around the pitch, but it seems mostly very sporting in typical British/Irish spirit. Both teams like to knock the ball long for a big forward, and Northern Ireland’s tactics of having O’Neill in an attacking midfield role’s so nearly paid off. Sheedy is having a decent game out left against young Notts Forest full-back Fleming, but again Houghton’s more noticeable down the opposite flank. Ireland are in the ascendancy towards the end of the half, but they’ve not caused Dunlop a lot of worry until Whelan can make it 1-0 three minutes from half time: Staunton punts it long into the area, the Linfield goalkeeper doesn’t get enough power on his punch as he is challenged by both Aldridge and Cascarino, and the ball only goes as far as to Whelan, who can place it calmly just inside of the left hand post, with Worthington and McDonald on the goalline unable to prevent it going in. The carnival-like atmosphere only increases, and Lansdowne Road, momentarily bathed in sunshine, erupts into renditions of “Que sera, sera”. Half time.
So what effect does that late first half goal have on the second period? Northern Ireland win themselves a corner right away through Dennison, who subsequently sees his left foot shot from just inside the penalty area deflect off team mate Clarke and over. Are they making a push for it right away? It seems to be a false dawn. The Republic will soon kill the game with two more goals. A mere three minutes into the half Cascarino heads home Sheedy’s left-footed cross from the right. The Everton winger had lingered after a corner, and when Whelan finds him with a precise pass, Cascarino has an easy task in guiding Sheedy’s cross into the net. The big Millwall man had managed to escape McDonald’s attention, and right back Fleming is no match for him in the air. Nine minutes later it is 3-0 when Houghton escapes a lunge from Donaghy and places his low right foot shot inside the left hand post. Sheedy with the assist once again. Between the second and third goal Aldridge had hit the post with a header from a right wing corner.
The Italian flag is blowing in the mild Dublin breeze. It is there due to referee D’Elia’s presence, but it sure does symbolize the journey that the Irish will undertake next summer. There is no denying them that second spot now. Despite the near certainty of their qualification at this point, the crowd still appears to be reluctant to let themselves go completely. Perhaps they are less subdued than normally due to the early kick-off; the Dublin pubs won’t have had time to serve people for long prior to the game.
What can Northern Ireland do against this sudden burst of Republic energy? Not a lot it seems. Whiteside tries his best, but he looks a tad overweight and is mostly noticed for his constant fouling of Liverpool players Houghton and Whelan. He must be threading a very fine line with the referee having received that very early yellow card. And the fact that he is a well liked player among his fellow professionals does appear a blatant lie. It is unlikely Houghton or Whelan will be sending the now Everton man any cards for Christmas. Bingham moves Michael O’Neill up top alongside Clarke in order to try and restore something, but they are unable to service the two forwards. All the action is by now inside the Ulstermen’s half. Aldridge is still searching for his second international goal, and it is reassuring that he gets into positions, which he has been struggling to do during the entire qualification. However, he demonstrates his lack of confidence when finishing, and cuts a frustrated figure late in the game despite the Irish celebrations. The Irish game is built more around his partner Cascarino than the now Real Sociedad forward.
Bingham introduces his second substitute when he takes McCreery off. There’s a generous round of applause for the ageing Newcastle midfielder. Motherwell’s Colin O’Neill comes on for only his second international, but before the game is over he will have given a good account of himself: very workmanlike and direct, and often in the thick of the action. This O’Neill slots straight into the position left vacant by McCreery. The pace is less fervent after the third Irish goal, but it eventually picks up a bit again with a quarter of an hour to go. Irish right back Morris tussles with Dennison on a couple of occasions, and when he brings him down from behind, D’Elia’s left with little option but to caution him. The growingly frustrated Aldridge is also booked when he protests furiously for not getting a penalty when McDonald’s held him down inside the Northern Irish area. Will Aldridge ever get his second international goal?
Up front for the visitors Clarke never stops trying. He will have experienced Arsenal centre half O’Leary as his new marker when Charlton decides to rest Staunton, who’s had some achilles tendon problems coming into the game, and Moran goes to left back. Clarke gets a couple of second half shots away, but never enough to trouble Bonner much. The experienced Celtic ‘keeper is intent on a shut-out. Clarke is accompanied by Chelsea forward Kevin Wilson for the final ten minutes as Michael O’Neill is withdrawn.
Whelan’s chosen as the main sponsor’s ‘Man of the Match’, and three minutes from time there’s a lot of “Here we go” from the home crowd, which finally seems to relax, well aware that there is very little which can prevent them from reaching Italia ’90 now. The ref blows his whistle as Sheedy’s about to take yet another right wing corner. Incredibly, the supporters remain obedient to the public announcement that has warned them to stay off the pitch post-match. Billy Bingham goes to shake Jackie Charlton’s hand and wish him the best of luck for next summer.
The first half is very even, perhaps even slightly in favour of Northern Ireland, who should have gone ahead on 25 minutes when they can not convert two good opportunities within the space of 30 seconds. Once the home side move in front right before the break, the visitors appear to have the air knocked out of them, and when two further goals in rather quick succession follow in the second half, the Republic can allow themselves to take their foot off the gas, and the match becomes a fairly mundane affair for 20 minutes or so, before it picks up again towards the end, at least in intensity. Whiteside appears to bear some grudge with a couple of the Liverpool players, not surprisingly considering he was a big part of Manchester United for a long time and now with the Reds’ city rivals Everton. There is more class in the Irish team, and in Houghton on the right and Whelan centrally they dominate their opponents from the goal and onwards. The three goal cushion is perhaps harsh on the away team though, who see McDonald come out from the aerial challenges with Cascarino with his integrity intact. The Republic of Ireland are on their way to Italy, though it remains to see whether Spain can confirm the Irish going through by winning in Budapest in the evening, and it is difficult to see much work being done anywhere in the country for the rest of this Wednesday afternoon or indeed for the early hours next morning.
REP OF IRELAND:
1 Bonner 6.7
2 Morris 7.2
is playing with confidence from the start, never allows Dennison time to settle on the ball, and gets forward well. A competent match from the solid full-back.
3 Staunton 6.9
(12 O’Leary -)
4 McCarthy 7.1
5 Moran 6.9
6 Whelan 7.4
a token of his quality was the sliced pass with which he found Sheedy, who in turn assisted Cascarino for 2-0. Another performance of quality by the midfield star, whose calmly placed finish opened the Irish account.
7 Townsend 6.9
8 Houghton 7.4
there is no secret behind why Ray Houghton’s such a handful to any opponent, just loads of hard work. And it shows in his running. What a campaign he’s had.
9 Aldridge 6.8
10 Cascarino 6.9
this time less efficient than normally, due to the opposition this time being used to defending against long balls.
11 Sheedy 7.3
the Everton man’s best performance of the qualifiers with two assists to show for.
1 Dunlop 6.7
did not look out of place; definitely not his fault that the Ulstermen came away with nothing.
2 Fleming 6.6
3 Worthington 6.8
4 Donaghy 6.4
uncharacteristically weak, as Aldridge usually got the better of him.
5 McDonald 6.8
does well in the many aerial challenges with Cascarino.
6 McCreery 6.3
overpowered by the Irish midfield.
(15 C O’Neill -)
7 D Wilson 6.5
8 M O’Neill 6.9
(16 K Wilson -)
9 Clarke 6.8
10 Whiteside 6.3
oh, come on, big Norm. Beleaguered, irritable, and negative. Was more focused on his battles with Liverpool foes Whelan and Houghton than he was trying to do well for his country.
11 Dennison 6.2