Norwich City’s Wes Hoolahan unable to weave magic in 45 minutes for Republic of Ireland
Norwich City playmaker Wes Hoolahan was unable to inspire the Republic of Ireland last night as they ended 2012 with a depressing home defeat.
Hoolahan earned his second international cap after being introduced as a half-time substitute, receiving a big cheer from a sparse Dublin crowd as he entered the fray.
But playing off lone striker Kevin Doyle he failed to impose himself on the game as visitors Greece held out for a hard-earned win.
Giovanni Trapattoni's experimental side, which featured Ciaran Clark, James McCarthy, James McClean and Robbie Brady from the start and Hoolahan after the break, competed well for long periods, but were unable to carve out the openings to take something from the game. Ireland showed plenty of endeavour and at times craft, but they could not find the killer touch in front of goal.
As a result, Jose Holebas' sweet 29th-minute strike was enough to win the game for the visitors and leave Trapattoni's detractors with enough ammunition to maintain their opposition to his continued presence at the helm heading into March's crucial World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Austria.
The Republic looked certain to take the lead with 10 minutes gone when full-back Seamus Coleman crossed. Simon Cox had found a yard of space and climbed to meet the ball unopposed, but he was unable to hit the target with just keeper Orestis Karnezis to beat.
Greece made them pay for the miss when skipper Georgios Samaras turned Konstantinos Mitroglou's pass into the path of Holebas, who span John O'Shea and thumped the ball into the bottom corner.
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Long and Clark were both booked for clumsy challenges as the game unfolded in anything but friendly fashion, but the home side had rather lost their way.
They might have levelled in injury time when Brady tested Karnezis with a left-foot strike after being set up by Long, but the goalkeeper was equal to the task.
There was warm applause from the sparse crowd when, on their return, Ireland were joined by in-form Norwich star Hoolahan, winning just his second cap, a fact which had not gone unnoticed by Trapattoni's critics.
Brady departed along with Long to accommodate his arrival and that of Kevin Doyle, who was asked to play a lone striking role ahead of Hoolahan with Cox dropping in on the left and McClean moving to the right.
Ironically Glenn Whelan, the man who had pleaded with his manager earlier in the week to field an extra midfielder, was back in the dressing room having limped off injured before the break.
However, it was McCarthy who almost dragged the Republic back into the game two minutes into the second half when Karnezis failed to hold his long-range shot, although Papastathopoulos prevented Doyle from converting the rebound and Cox's follow-up was blocked.
But while perspiration was not in short supply, inspiration was and the Irish failed to make the most of the possession they were allowed as the game passed the hour-mark with Greece's narrow lead intact.
Ward hacked a 69th-minute shot harmlessly across the face of goal after the Greeks had failed to clear a McClean free-kick, and Greece coasted to the final whistle and victory with few alarms.