Where Giovanni Trapattoni is concerned, incredulity may have a higher ranking than second nature. So it was that on Saturday night in the basement at Croke Park, when offered a reasonable question regarding substitutions and Trapattoni's unwillingness to make changes – Andy Keogh for Aiden McGeady in the 90th minute was his one and only – Trapattoni looked at the journalist as if he had been asked something deranged.
"You know our squad?" Trapattoni asked back. "You know we have three or four on the bench who don't play for their clubs?" He continued at the same tenor, scattering a blur of phrases that were half-English, half-Italian, half-Irish. "If the rhythm of the game is high then it is difficult to go in ... it's like an arm wrestle ... when I managed big clubs you could choose ... if I had the same type of quality...."
Trapattoni's essential, and valid, point was that his squad lacks depth and variety. So to be second in a group containing Italy is not to be ridiculed. It was then that Andy Reid's name surfaced, as it does. The Sunderland midfielder, whose ability to both hold and distribute the ball is established, has been frozen out by Trapattoni following a late-night altercation between the pair in Germany last year.
Reid plays regularly, and effectively, in the Premier League. As Trapattoni would agree, that is more than Darron Gibson does, or Damien Delaney or Keogh, or any others on the Irish bench. But when Reid's name came, Trapattoni's mood switched. This is an issue he considers over, yet even had the Irish been able to hang on to the lead given to them by Richard Dunne after only 36 seconds, Reid would still be on Trapattoni's agenda. Too many can see what Reid could bring to a midfield in which Glenn Whelan and Keith Andrews are willing but one-dimensional.
Reid's exclusion, as opposed to Stephen Ireland's self-imposed exile, is the first serious negative around Trapattoni. But after a cautious display, there is another growing over Trapattoni's style. Or lack of it.
Irish fans desperate for some success would take ugly victories but they saw on Saturday that a badly depleted Bulgaria still retained passing principles to deservedly equalise through Kevin Kilbane's own goal.
Trapattoni approved of Bulgaria but as it is his native Italy next, in Bari on Wednesday, there will be no sudden lurch into expansive football. This will be a big night for the 70-year-old; the fear in Ireland is that it could also be a bad one. And Bulgaria away follows it.
Goals Dunne (1) 1-0; Kilbane (73og) 1-1.
Republic of Ireland (4-4-2): Given (Man City); McShane (Hull City), O'Shea (Man United), Dunne (Man City), Kilbane (Hull City); McGeady (Celtic), Whelan (Stoke City), Andrews (Blackburn Rovers), S Hunt (Reading); Keane (Tottenham), Doyle (Reading).
Bulgaria (4-4-2): Ivankov; Manolev (Kishishev, 24) Stoyanov, Tomasic, Milanov; Telkiyski, Georgiev (Makriev, 66) S Petrov, Angelov; Popov (Dimitrov, h-t) Rangelov.
Referee: I Bebek (Croatia)
Booked: Bulgaria: Manolev, Milanov, Kishishev
Man of the match: Petrov.
Attendance: 60,002Reuse content