It was for the Euro 2012 qualifer, at home against Slovakia last September, that Giovanni Trapattoni decided to jettison Kevin Doyle in favour of Shane Long. Doyle, he reasoned, harboured 'fear' over a persistent knee knock and Long, it was supposed, would provide a physical, yet static, Slovakia backline more of a challenge.
At the time, there was widespread surprise that Trapattoni would drop one of his preferred starters for a reason aside from injury or suspension. He preferred Long, simple as that, and thought that the Tipperary man was the better option. Alas, it never came to pass that Long would start. A calf strain on the eve of the match ruled the 25-year-old out just as, finally, he seemed to win one over his former Reading room-mate and close friend.
|STRIKERS' STATS SINCE QUALIFIERS BEGAN
Similarly, Doyle is Ireland's undisputed number nine. He squeaked his way back into that starting lineup for the Slovakia game and, when it counts, he is never out of it.
That Long usurped him was a major development. It hinted that Trapattoni could be swayed to stray from his blueprint. Tellingly it was Doyle who was seen as the fall guy and the forward's reaction was shocking.
His display that night, on the night he knew he was replacing his replacement, was dismal. He phoned it in.
A few weeks later, against Armenia, another irresponsible showing resulted in a red card, his first and only in almost 50 caps for his country. It betrayed sullenness.
It gave credence to the insinuation that Doyle would be sweetness and light when things were going his way and he was guaranteed his start. But when his spot in the team came under scrutiny, or, moreover, when his complacency came under scrutiny, he sulked.
And make no mistake, complacency it is. Ten goals in 49 caps is about as good as Ian Harte managed from dead balls.
Trapattoni came to the conclusion that he had more variable striking options in his squad. And now, with Ireland facing elimination form Euro 2012 due, in part, to abhorrent finishing, he needs to do so again. Not one of Ireland's five strikers managed a shot on target last Sunday against Croatia. Doyle gave Vedran Corluka a physical battle but never once looked like testing Stipe Pletikosa. It's the way things have been for quite a while.
Doyle has just delivered his worst goalscoring return in English football since moving from Cork City to Reading in 2005. He endured relegation, drifted in and out of the starting XI at club level and is helpless to prevent the collapse of his stock. Doyle's goalscoring returns have diminished every season since he joined Wolves. From one of the Premier League's most promising and highly-regarded talents, he has become relegation fodder.
At international level, too, his goalscoring record does not stand up to close scrutiny. He has managed two goals in two years for the Boys in Green. Both have come against Andorra. Simply, it is not a good enough return for Robbie Keane's foil. The captain, currently on his worst Ireland goal drought for 11 years, needs the burden to be shared when he hits a wobble. The chief problem for Doyle is that his Ireland career resembles, for the most part, Keane's dry spells, interspersed with the odd goal here and there.
Playing up front for Ireland, often, is a thankless task. Running channels, putting the body in front of clearances, dropping into midfield to bail out Whelan and Keith Andrews are all part of the processes of an Ireland number nine. But even on that front, there are now better options than Doyle. His hold up play is inferior to Jonathan Walters, who is more physically capable. He's not as quick as Long and does not possess the same scoring instinct.
It is symptomatic of a Trapattoni team to become predictable. Ireland's play is so rudimentary that any decent team would fancy their chances of a clean sheet. Indeed, the Irish haven't beaten a team ranked higher in the world ranking since defeating the Netherlands 11 long years ago. Part of the problem is strikers like Doyle. Not ruthless enough, not clincial enough. Not quick or strong enough.
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