Well Done Stephen Kelly

March 4, 2010

I watched the Brazil-Ireland game on Tuesday night and other than flinching every time Damien Duff went in for a challenge, I kept a close eye on the much maligned Stephen Kelly.

Kelly has come in for a lot of stick this year, and much of it has been justified. He has struggled in defence consistently, to such an extent that Roy has preferred to play Baird there over the last few games. However, despite his struggles, I have never got irritated with him as I did with Baird when he first played there. I am not sure why, but I guess it is the fact that he never gives up, even when things are not going well. Accusations that he is ‘not a premiership player’ I feel are wide of the mark and Tuesday nights game went some way to helping me back up my argument.

Ireland’s defensive setup was somewhat similar to Fulham’s, which should come as no surprise as Hodgson and Trappatoni have similar coaching styles.  This meant that they played a very narrow defence with both fullbacks tucking in. This gave us a chance to watch Kelly’s defensive skills against a very good attacking side (even if under Dunga they have been more defensive than previous Brazilian sides). I thought that Kelly effectively neutralised the Brazilian attack down their left hand side, shackling Robinho and making a couple of goal-saving blocks (much like some of his recent ones at Fulham). It was most noticeable in the second half when Brazil attacked almost solely down the right hand side of the pitch, against Kevin Kilbane, with the marauding Maicon and others bombarding that flank. Great credit should go to Kelly for neutralizing this threat.

I think that Kelly’s recent Europa League exploits have been good as well. He has been played out of position for two of the most defensively intensive Fulham performances of the season, and perhaps even of all time. Although some may say Shakhtar’s goal in Donetsk was his fault as Douglas Costa glided past him on the wing to get the assist, I think this is harsh and not even our usual full backs would have been able to do much about that. Here is to hoping he can build on his recent better form and challenge for the starting spot at Fulham once again.

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