By Ed Leahy
Goals from Ciaran Clark and Wes Hoolahan either side of half-time gave the Republic of Ireland a deserved 2-0 victory over Poland in Wednesday night’s friendly international at Aviva Stadium.
Giovanni Trapattoni’s new-look side had to deal with early Polish pressure before Aston Villa defender Clark side-footed home the opening goal after 35 minutes against the run of play.
And the victory was sealed after 76 minutes as Jeff Hendrick played a neat ball over the top to fellow substitute Wes Hoolahan who showed great composure to place the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
A freezing cold night at a far-from-full Aviva Stadium appeared more like a home game for the visiting Polish side whose supporters outnumbered the home support by a large majority.
And the support appeared to spur Waldemar Fornalik’s side into action as they put early pressure on the Ireland back four.
Trapattoni’s side have got into the bad habit of letting in early goals and Poland had a great chance to continue the tradition with just three minutes on the clock.
The ball was worked down the right wing and Sebastian Boenisch rifled a low cross across the edge of the six-yard box but David Forde got down well and cleared with his feet to avert the danger.
It was certainly a new-look Ireland side but it was a very familiar formation as the outfield players slotted into their tried and trusted 4-4-2 formation.
The defence and midfield were working together in two banks of four with Conor Sammon also dropping deep to attempt to thwart the constant Poland attacks.
The Ireland back four were trying to play a high line but the constant Polish pressure pushed the play deeper into home territory.
And the pressure nearly paid off after 18 minutes when new Ireland number one Forde hit a terrible clearance straight to the oncoming Ludovic Obraniak but the keeper was let off the hook as the midfielder smashed the ball wide of the far post.
Ireland’s first chance fell to Robbie Brady at the edge of the Polish box following good pressure from debutant Conor Sammon but the Hull City midfielder’s effort flew past the post.
Another mistake in the Irish ranks sent the lively centre forward Szymon Lewandowski through on goal but Millwall keeper Forde was quick off his line to save from the Borussia Dortmund forward.
That chance appeared to spark some life into the Irish players as they managed to make the odd foray into the opposition half and some good link-up play down the left wing saw Shane Long send James McClean down the by-line to win a corner.
The delivery was met by Ciaran Clark whose downward header fell to Shane Long who fell backwards as he forced a great save by Artur Boruc and then managed to cause a commotion in the six-yard box.
The ball was only half-cleared and it fell perfectly for Clark who kept his composure and side-footed the ball home for his first international goal.
Ireland were now enjoying some decent pressure and again broke down the left wing after Sammon won the aerial challenge to send Shane Long through.
The Baggies frontman pulled the ball back for the onrushing Brady but the shot was blocked and the Poland defence cleared.
The visitors went straight up the pitch and, once again, Forde was forced into a good save as Lewandowski’s half-volley was tipped wide.
And Fornalik’s side finished the half on top and may have been awarded a penalty had the referee judged Clark to have fouled Lewandowski in the box.
However, they could have easily been reduced to ten men just before the break after centre-half Kamil Glik went over the top as James McClean beat him to the ball out on the left wing.
The second half started with the arrival of Paul Green, replacing Glenn Whelan in a like-for-like substitution in the centre of the park.
And it was the Irish who took the game to the visitors in the opening minutes as a Brady free in a good position was whipped into the box but was easily taken by Szczesny.
And two minutes later, Ireland could have doubled their lead after the ball fell invitingly for James McCarthy on the edge of the box, but his side-footed powerful effort was smartly saved by Szczesny who tipped the ball over the bar.
The Irish dominance was starting to show, as much as the Polish challenge faded, with Green linking well in midfield with McCarthy and winger McClean.
And debutant Sammon was almost gifted his first international goal after 61 minutes after a mix-up in the box by Damien Perquis but the Derby striker’s first touch let him down and the keeper collected.
The biggest Irish cheer of the night was reserved for 62nd-minute substitute Wes Hoolahan who came on for Shane Long.
The Norwich man was straight into the action and was happy to drop deep and keep possession as Ireland remained in control.
And the pressure paid dividends in the 76th-minute when debutant Hendrick played a sublime ball across and over the Polish defence for Hoolahan to run on to, take one touch, and guide the ball into the right side of the net, with the help of a slight deflection.
If Poland didn’t look too interested in the second half, the Hoolahan goal completely killed the game off as a contest with the final minutes being played at a very pedestrian pace, which suited the Irish and allowed large sections of the crowd to sneak off out of the cauldron of cold that was Aviva Stadium.
A great result and a triumph for Trapattoni and his ultra-organised Ireland side ahead of their competitive clash next month with Sweden in Stockholm.
Rep of Ireland: David Forde; Paul McShane, Ciaran Clark, John O’Shea, Greg Cunningham; Robbie Brady, Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy, James McClean; Shane Long, Connor Sammon
Poland: Artur Boruc; Damien Perquis, Kamil Glik, Sebastian Boenisch, Jakub Wawrzyniak, Daniel Lukasik, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jakub Blaszczykowski (capt), Ludovic Obraniak, Szymon Pawlowski, Robert Lewandowski.