Points if not plaudits for stuttering Irish

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The Independent Football

The morning sun brought sober reflections on the Republic of Ireland's match against Switzerland. Wednesday night's draw meant they secured the four points from their opening two World Cup qualifiers which their manager Brian Kerr had set as a minimum.

But news also filtered out - as was apparent from Kerr's post-match demeanour - that he was deeply unhappy with the performance. He was right to be. Harsh words were spoken in the dressing room. Too many of the Irish players did not perform. But for goalkeeper Shay Given they may have lost again to the Swiss, which would have amounted to a third consecutive defeat against a nation 31 places below them in the Fifa rankings and severe pressure when they play France next month.

One excuse is a lack of match fitness. Five of the starting XI have barely featured for their clubs this season. And one of them, goalscorer Clinton Morrison, revealed he had "seriously considered" asking for a loan move "in order to get some first-team football". Morrison, 25, said he had spoken to Steve Bruce, adding "the Birmingham manager told me that I was still in his plans and that he wanted me to stay, so I'm happy with that. I'm one of about five strikers at Birmingham now, but I'm ready to fight for my place."

However, he went on: "If things stay as they are, then I will obviously have to look at my situation again in January [when the transfer window opens]." His main motivation, Morrison said, was to protect his international career.

With two goals in his last two appearances he feels he has answered his critics. "Playing for Ireland is very important to me and I don't want to drop out of the picture because I'm not playing for my club," he said.

"I'm a confidence player and I'm obviously feeling really good at the moment after two good performances."

Ireland, too, can take confidence. After all, they lost their first two fixtures for Euro 2004 qualification and Kerr's gamble, to play the Swiss away so early, did not backfire. But the Dubliner, who now has a record of just two defeats in 21 matches, will be concerned at his side's disorganised defending and inability to retain the ball in midfield. The ineffectiveness of Andy Reid also punctured the euphoria of his display against Cyprus.

Yet there was an interesting assessment from Liverpool's Stéphane Henchoz, a Swiss substitute, who claimed: "Before the group started, it was fair to think that France would be the team to win it. They are not the team they used to be. Many new players have come in and I think Switzerland and Ireland have a real chance of qualifying at the expense of France."

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