Seamus Coleman, showing his determination against Son Heung-min yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Coleman and Doherty the perfect fit for Slovakia game

Talking Point


Seamus Coleman has to start for Ireland against Slovakia. But so does Matt Doherty.

A passage of play in the 25th minute of the clash between Everton and Spurs illustrated the differing strengths of Ireland's two best Premier League performers. First Doherty got down the right wing and swung in a superb teasing cross which seemed tailor-made for the head of Harry Kane.

Instead Coleman rose highest to make a crucial interception. And when the ball dropped to Son Heung-min, the Everton captain came to the rescue again with a superb block. This wasn't just defending, this was Seamus Coleman at his best defending.

Jose Mourinho appears to be among those who regarded Coleman's recent omission from the Irish line-up as indicating serious decline. Spurs began the game with the clear intention of isolating Son against Coleman at every opportunity.

Twice in the first six minutes the South Korean found himself in the ideal position to test the Irishman's pace. On both occasions Coleman passed the test with ease. In the 18th minute Son went one on one against the Donegal man, twice trying with all his might to twist and turn past him on the left hand edge of the penalty area. All he got was a corner kick.

That was all she wrote for Son down the left. Spurs abandoned this avenue as Coleman held his fort with little difficulty and even went on the attack himself.

Twenty minutes from time he surged forward to strike a fine pass which gave Richarlison an opportunity Spurs scrambled to block. Four minutes later his 25-yard half-volley forced Hugo Lloris into a smart save.

It was one of Coleman's finest recent Premier League performances. Should this kind of form continue it will be almost impossible for Stephen Kenny to exclude him from the Irish team.

There was a moment when Doherty seemed poised for a dream debut with his new club. It came five minutes before the break as he picked the ball just inside the Everton half and powered into the heart of the visitors' defence. Once there he executed a superb one-two with Harry Kane which gave the Dubliner a sight of goal only for Jordan Pickford to deny him.
Matt Doherty. Photo: PA


The run encapsulated Doherty at his best and showed why he too is indispensable to Ireland. Though playing in a conventional full-back role rather than the wing-back slot he filled at Wolves, Doherty still occupied an unusually advanced position for a defender.

That makes sense for a player at his best on the front rather than the back foot. Doherty's attacking qualities mean there can be room for both him and Coleman in the Irish team.

Excluding one is a luxury Kenny can't afford on a team with so few outstanding individuals. It's hardly even a gamble to play Coleman at right-back and Doherty ahead of him when the alternatives are the calamitous Callums, O'Dowda and Robinson.

Even in a slightly unaccustomed role Doherty will surely contribute more than that dread duo. The Matt and Seamus combination would also add defensive heft in a game where Ireland will need it. At times in the first half Doherty looked the player most likely to raise Spurs from their slumber. An earlier surge had led to a Son cross which barely eluded Kane before curling just wide of the far post.

Eventually even the Irishman wilted and his 75th-minute withdrawal may have been prompted by two occasions in quick succession when a tardiness in closing down Richarlison might have been punished by goals. But it's still telling that his final contribution before being subbed was to make a typical run into the box and win a good header which put the Everton defence momentarily in trouble. There were no such moments after his departure.

Players of contrasting styles, Coleman and Doherty may be set for contrasting fortunes this season. On yesterday's evidence, the additions of James Rodriguez and his midfield colleagues Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan have the potential to entirely transform the Toffees. Everton's midfield entirely controlled proceedings en route to a first victory over one of the Big Six since December 2013.
Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile


How long can Spurs remain among that elite half dozen? Their midfield was almost non-existent with Dele Alli subbed at half-time, new signing Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg looking like a poor man's Glenn Whelan and Harry Winks again suggesting that if he truly was an elite-level playmaker he'd have shown it by now.


Tanguy Ndombele, bought at huge expense to address the team's creative deficiencies in this area, came on for 15 minutes, did bugger all and will surely be gone soon. The worrying thing for Spurs fans is that Jose Mourinho may not lose much sleep over all this. His approach continues to be based on defence in depth and counter-attacking from the firm of Kane, Moura and Son. He looks like yesterday's man.

The outmoded strategy works sometimes but when it doesn't Spurs look awful. Kane has rarely been as isolated, anonymous and unhappy looking as he was yesterday. This ain't no way to treat a world-class striker. Spurs' lazy and listless performance was the kind which gets managers sacked. The clock is ticking for Mourinho.

Matt Doherty might have boarded a sinking ship. But the new engine room on Seamus Coleman's boat could work wonders before this season's voyage is through.