Ireland beaten as O'Neill continues search for missing ingredients

They lost 1-0 to Iceland this evening at the Aviva Stadium

Daryl Horgan, Ireland

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

It was a telling component of tonight's game at the Aviva Stadium that the biggest shouts from the crowd came in the substitutions of Daryl Horgan and James McClean.

The pair got a standing ovation, the former for his entrance into proceedings and McClean after another good shift in a green jersey.

The result wouldn't have been exactly what Ireland were looking for - a 1-0 defeat at home to Euro 2016 darlings, Iceland - but in honesty the game wasn't about the result.

Tonight was an evening of experiment, with Ireland boss Martin O'Neill taking all the unused ingredients on the shelf to see what he could make on short notice.

With Ireland shorn of first team players through injuries in the squad, many suspected that Horgan would be a shoe-in to start this evening but had to settle for a place on the bench.

Aston Villa's Conor Hourihane and John Egan of Brentford were both handed debuts by O'Neill, Ireland's chief resisting the urge to hand first international starts to both Horgan and Andy Boyle.

Kevin Doyle was given the nod up front, while Jeff Hendrick and McClean were the only survivors from Ireland's scoreless draw with Wales last Friday.

Keiren Westwood started between the sticks as O'Neill rested first choice netminder, Darren Randolph. Alex Pearce and a returning Cyrus Christie also featured in the starting XI.

And before kick-off, there was a quiet excitement about the ground. Fringe players now had the chance to make their mark in this Irish squad, but, in truth, most missed it.

The first half came and went the same way a plaster comes of a freshly grazed arm - slowly, painfully and the feeling so bad at times many decided simply to look away. Not even the infamous trumpeters could muster a positive chant out of the Irish support.

Hourihane struggled to impose himself, as Ireland's brand of kick-and-chase ball was something Joe Schmidt would have looked upon as a thing of beauty.

Hendrick couldn't find his rhythm, while Doyle offered little or nothing up front for the home side.

Robbie Brady, in his role as stand-in captain, showed glimpses of his true talent with some smart deliveries and forays forward into the opposition half.

Looking on you would have thought that the first half would pass without notice, no real chances up until the only goal of the game.

John Egan conceded a freekick on the edge of the area after he was caught flat-footed and Hordur Magnusson stepped up to take the set-piece.

A decent strike, but Cork native Hourihane was at fault as he turned away, allowing the ball to pass through the wall and into the bottom right hand corner of the net. Westwood rooted to the spot.

No doubt there was words of encouragement after the break, with many of those so anonymous in the first half starting to find their voice. Hendrick and Jonathan Hayes both showing a little more life but again, there was little in the way of chances.

As Horgan made his way onto the pitch, the crowd lifted and for the final 20 minutes and they finally had something - or someone, rather - to shout about.

The former Dundalk winger was a constant menace down the left hand side. His crosses gave Ireland a platform with which to trouble Iceland, but the problem came from the fact that Ireland simply had not runners tearing into the box.

It was a night where the substitutes made the greatest impact, but O'Neill will be disappointed with the likes of Hourihane, Hayes, Doyle and even Aiden McGeady who was handed a start coming off his substitute performance against
Wales.

The end result was a pretty bland, disjointed performance for the opening hour, with Horgan offering the spice that will no doubt influence O'Neill's decisions in the coming months.