Football: Czechs bring the Irish fans back to earth: Charlton in good spirits despite home defeat that exposes defensive deficiencies

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THE Republic of Ireland depart for the United States today in the manner they did not want, with a rare defeat in their Dublin stronghold spoiling the send-off party and reminding an expectant nation that they are not world-beaters . . . yet.

At least in adversity Jack Charlton, the Englishman who can do no wrong in Irish eyes, gained something in yesterday's painful confirmation that the team he presents to the World Cup finals in 12 days' time is best suited to the cautious formation which strengthens midfield, while putting isolated onus on a lone attacker.

When a skilful, imaginative Czech side regained their lead early in the second half, Charlton reverted to the 4-5-1 strategy that had brought outstanding success in recent weeks in the Netherlands and Germany, and gave weight to speculation that they could travel far in the showpiece tournament.

Pressing hard for an equaliser that would have left them unbeaten during their five-match preamble to America, Ireland now made improved use of their possession but allowed the pacey Czech raiders to unhinge them a third time, and stumbled to a reverse that was as bad as Charlton has known during his spectacular eight-year adventure at the head of Ireland's emergence.

It was only his third defeat at this ground, yet still the faithful hordes gave their footballing favourite a rousing farewell, and refused to go home until Charlton himself had shown to give them a final wave of goodbye.

Later, the manager refused to be downcast, saying: 'They have been packing their bags and getting things sorted, and their minds have wandered away from this game. Maybe that's no bad thing because it will force us to sit back and think again. The fans were marvellous. Obviously they would have been happier if we had won, but maybe it was time we did not make them too happy.'

Charlton confessed to a worry about Paul McGrath, whose fitness appeared to hold up but who 'was a little bit stand-offish out there'. Yet it is Alan Kernaghan, his defensive partner, who will be most fearful for his place in the XI that faces Italy in New Jersey on 18 June.

It was Kernaghan's hesitation that allowed the formidable Pavel Kuka to steal away in the 26th minute, and Terry Phelan was forced to take his feet away. Kuka calmly dispatched the penalty and it was the Kaiserslautern striker who made it 2-1 when Packie Bonner, setting a new Irish appearance record with his 73rd cap, could only divert Martin Frydek's shot to his feet.

Throughout, the diminituve Frydek gave an immaculate exhibition of how to pass and receive, taking up canny positions to exploit Irish unease before releasing delicate short balls that threatened the worst. The Czechs' third, seven minutes from time, came the same way as Jan Suchoparek fired home via an upright.

Ireland had scarcely deserved to go in at half-time on equal terms. While Tony Cascarino had stamped his claims by his supremacy upstairs, those around him were unable to make profitable use of the assist. John Aldridge was a disappointment on his return and later gave way to Tommy Coyne, though he did have a hand in the equaliser, set up in the 43rd minute by Steve Staunton and finished off powerfully by Andy Townsend.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (4-4-2): Bonner (Celtic); G Kelly (Leeds), McGrath (Aston Villa), Kernaghan, Phelan (both Manchester City); McGoldrick (Arsenal), Townsend (Aston Villa), Sheridan (Sheffield Wednesday), Staunton (Aston Villa); Aldridge (Tranmere), Cascarino (Chelsea). Substitutes: Keane (Manchester United) for Aldridge, 54; McAteer (Bolton) for McGoldrick, 54, Coyne (Motherwell) for Cascarino, 65; Babb (Coventry) for McGrath, 78.

CZECH REPUBLIC (1-4-4-1): Kouba (Sparta Prague); Kubik (Nuremberg); Kotulek (Sigma Olomouc), Repka (Banik Ostrava), Suchoparek (Slavia Prague), Nemec (Schalke 04); Poborsky (Ceske Budejovice), Novotny, Frydek (both Sparta Prague), Smejkal (Viktoria Pilsen); Kuka (Kaiserslautern). Substitutes: Nedved (Sparta Prague) for Nemec, 88; Samec (Union Cheb) for Frydek, 90.

Referee: L Sundell (Sweden).