The Republic of Ireland’s preparations for their crucial World Cup qualifier with Austria began with a 3-1 defeat to Mexico, but boss Martin O’Neill was happy with the work-out.
Branding it “a great exercise”, the Republic lined up in an experimental 3-5-2 formation on a night when O’Neill gave first starts to Daryl Horgan (Preston North End) and Callum O’Dowda (Bristol City’s) and full international debuts to Burnley’s Kevin Long and Preston’s Alan Browne.
James McClean captained the side on his 50th cap in front of a crowd of 42,017 spectators at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Ireland now face Uruguay at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (4 June) in a friendly before they take on Austria on 11 June in Dublin in World Cup qualifying round 6.
Ireland go into that game second in Group D level on points with leaders Serbia and four points clear of Wales and Austria, in third and fourth respectively.
“First of all, I was delighted with the game. Secondly, quite a number of players have not played football for quite a considerable amount of time,” said O’Neill.
“In terms of our preparation for the main game against Austria, I thought it was excellent. Mexico were very good, they were good on the ball as befits a side like that. I thought it was a great work-out, a great exercise for us.”
The Ireland boss deployed Richard Keogh and John Egan either side of Shane Duffy in an experimental back three, with Cyrus Christie and James McClean operating as wing-backs.
“We have to try it, that’s the whole point. You can play a number of systems but you have to deal with situations,” added O’Neill.
“Mexico played much better than us, they deserved to win the game. As far as I’m concerned, it was great. I thought it was great preparation.”
Mexico took the lead on 16 minutes when winger Jesus Manuel Corona cut inside from the left flank onto his right foot and curled a shot past goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
On 25 minutes, El Tri got their second goal – this time from the penalty spot. Raul Jimenez took responsibility after Carlos Vela was fouled and he fired in.
Vela got Mexico’s third goal on 54 minutes when he found himself in the right place at the back post after Randolph’s superb save from Oribe Peralta made its way across goal.
Substitute Stephen Gleeson pulled one back on 77 minutes when he followed in a McClean cross and smashed in the rebound from close range.
It was Ireland’s second visit to the MetLife Stadium – their previous ended with a 5-1 defeat to Portugal in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup.
“It really is a fantastic stadium and the noise in terms of atmosphere and occasion was very good. But I would have liked us to have played better,” O’Neill said.
Republic of Ireland: Randolph; Christie (Browne 73), Keogh, Duffy, Egan (Long 64), McClean; Horgan (Gleeson 73), Hourihane (O’Kane 64), O’Dowda; Murphy (Hoolahan 64), McGoldrick.