Johnson tied to Bill’s burden?

Brennan Johnson had five shots against Latvia but failed to find the back of the net

In Adam Butt’s fascinating breakdown of why Spurs signed Brennan Johnson, he wrote: “The history of Johnson’s career to date suggests that when a new challenge is put before him, he is quick to make his move.”

Well, his big challenge for Wales is to step out of the shadows to fill the void left by Gareth Bale. It’s a daunting task but it hasn’t gone well so far.

Since Bale’s retirement, Johnson has played 240 minutes for Wales, but has failed to add to his record of two goals in 22 international appearances.

Playing up front and in midfield on your own for your country away in Latvia when there is nothing to do but win is certainly what Johnson is used to. This player made his name at Nottingham Forest as a dynamic wide forward, who gains his strength by running in behind and terrorizing full-backs. Playing as the focal point against two massive centre-backs can be a lonely and painful experience, but Johnson has adapted his game with plenty of intelligence in Riga.

All that was missing was the finishing touch. Perhaps burdened by the expectations of following in the footsteps of one of the sporting icons, he tightened his grip on goal, snatched chances and created a frustrating figure as Wales struggled for large parts of their 2-0 win over Latvia. Johnson had five shots on the back of 0.49 expected goals but spoiled his lines with some wayward finishing that saw four of those efforts miss the mark.

It wasn’t his night.


But writing off someone with his level of talent would be a foolish move. Wales have to play Croatia (H), Armenia (A) and Turkey (H) in their final three matches as all they will play are in Group D.

Johnson will need to rise to this challenge. His country needs him.
Lewis Jones

Wrong place, wrong time for Kenny’s philosophy

Stephen Kenny
Stephen Kenny is under enormous pressure as Ireland coach

Stephen Kenny is under pressure and deservedly so, but he must be commended for his courage in dealing with the Republic of Ireland’s style of play.

The Netherlands did not know what hit them under Ireland’s intense pressure during a first half of great hope for those who packed the Aviva Stadium praying for their Euro 2024 hopes to be fulfilled. The football on display was progressive and energetic. It was fun to watch the big parts. But, in the end, it fell again.

However, Kenny is driving a Ford Fiesta with his foot firmly on the gas pedal. Ireland doesn’t have the Lamborghini power to make Kenny’s style a winning style.

They are a team woefully lacking in key areas of the pitch. On three occasions in the first half during the 2-1 defeat, Ireland worked their way into great goal-scoring opportunities, but a lack of belief, quality and killer instinct on the part of Adam Idah and Chidozie Ogbeni, who could make no mistake with their attempts, meant that Ireland were that. Don’t take advantage of their fearless attacking style.

At the other end, Shane Duffy was at fault on both goals, struggling to deal with Kenny’s desire to play with a thin line that comes with such an aggressive playing strategy. The Netherlands were always just one pass away from taking the lead towards Ireland’s goal. It was too easy for a team full of this quality. And that’s the problem, it’s very easy to play against Ireland – and that has to change. This leaves the manager vulnerable.
Lewis Jones

Where does the next Northern Irish talent come from?

Northern Ireland fans will not be heading to Euro 2024
Northern Ireland fans will not be heading to Euro 2024

Northern Ireland have only qualified for the European Championship once, in 2016. But the Green and White, still in fine form after their side lost in Astana on Sunday for a fifth successive defeat, will have to wait to dance at the top of the European table for victory. At least one more qualification campaign.

A round of 16 exit in France proved to be the pinnacle of Michael O’Neill’s time on the field, with his second spell yet to begin. He returned to his position last December after the dismissal of Ian Baraclough, and faced injuries to a number of senior players, which constituted a severe test for Northern Ireland’s resources.

Any remaining hope of qualifying for next summer’s finals in Germany has effectively vanished after Thursday’s 4-2 loss in Slovenia – but fingers now point elsewhere after their 1-0 defeat to Kazakhstan.

Former striker David Healy says the problems run deeper, blaming the Irish Football Association’s “structural failings” for contributing to the team’s on-field struggles.

Healy claims the Irish Football Association has not delivered on its promises to invest in infrastructure following O’Neill’s relative success during his first term.

Michael O'Neill argues with the match officials
Michael O’Neill argues with the match officials

Rising stars Isaac Price, Shea Charles and Dan Ballard have been sponsored by clubs in England rather than Ireland’s FA JD academy.

Former captain Aaron Hughes was appointed as technical director last November to oversee FIFA’s development structures, as well as recent investment in elite youth scientific support and youth physiotherapy.

In addition, 16 members of the 23-man squad were selected by new Under-21s coach Tommy Wright at the end of last month through the JD Elite player development programme.

It will take time for the next generation to flourish. As O’Neal himself says, it feels like Groundhog Day, but fans can’t help but look at the bigger picture as he tries to put together a new team.
Penn Grounds

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