It was not a polished performance. Nor was it the best that they have played in this qualifying campaign. But the 2-1 win at the Aviva Stadium showed Giovanni Trapattoni’s are going in the right direction.
A goal on two minutes from winger Aiden McGeady gave Ireland the perfect start and had the majority of the half-full stadium giddy with excitement over a possible demolition of their Balkan visitors.
Robbie Keane then made it 2-0 and the three points felt safe for the home side. But that is exactly when international football comes alive and Macedonia hit back through Ivan Trichkovski.
No need to panic, but certainly reason to be concerned. Trichkovski had twice gone close with efforts before luck fell his way just ahead of half-time. Ireland failed to heed the warning signs and were punished for it.
It would be easy to lay the blame with Richard Dunne’s lack of match sharpness as the Macedonian No 7 turned him with ease before slotting in. But how the midfielder was allowed to drift through midfield without being tracked is what will be picked up on in the post-match video analysis.
For the most part, Ireland did well to deal with the opposition’s strange 4-2-3-1 formation. The central midfield combination of Glenn Whelan and Darron Gibson worked well as they supported each other with clever runs on and off the ball. Maybe it could be a partnership to stick with, although sterner tests will come.
The big positive for Trapattoni will be the performances of his wingers – McGeady and Damien Duff. Both excelled when breaking forward, created opportunities, shot from distance but didn’t neglect their defensive duties.
Duff has long been viewed solely as a tricky wideman, but how the Dubliner supports his full-back by covering and tracking opposing players is crucial. McGeady tried to mirror that work-rate, although he is a different type of player and is far from Duff’s level.
What is expected from McGeady is speed, flair and creativity. And he supplied all three in this game – albeit in flashes. The highlight came on 58 minutes when a teasing run ended with a chipped pass to Duff, who blasted wide.
That incident showed what this Irish team are capable of once they step up a gear. In the 4-4-2 system that they employ, it is the wingers who are the creative outlets so seeing both impress here is hugely encouraging for Trapattoni.
Macedonia did not give up though and continued to attack. On 75 minutes, they almost grabbed an equaliser when Trichkovski cut in from the left flank and made the same darting run through the heart of the Irish defence, but keeper Keiren Westwood was out quick to block his shot.
With striker Goran Pandev failing to have an impact, it was the tricky APOEL player that stood out for Mirsad Jonuz’s side. He will certainly be marked a lot closer when the teams meet again in Skopje in June.
Overall, this was a display that ticked many of the boxes that Trapattoni wanted to work in his favour. A home win? Check. Creativity from wingers? Check. Positives in central midfield? Check. Keane back on target? Check. And a first competitive cap for James McCarthy? Check.
The long-term goal is to reach the Euro 2012 finals in Poland & Ukraine. But the immediate target has to be getting used to winning. Uruguay are up next in a friendly before travelling to face Macedonia again.
If Trapattoni’s team can build up momentum and tighten up the minor problem areas, then Russia should have very good reason to worry about holding onto top spot in Group B.