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Do you agree with our Ireland XI to face Georgia?

Martin O’Neill faces a couple of difficult decisions ahead of Saturday’s game?

Ireland face a crucial qualifier against Georgia this weekend.
Ireland face a crucial qualifier against Georgia this weekend.
Image: Niall Carson

Goalkeeper

YOU COULD MAKE a case for both Keiren Westwood and Rob Elliot — the latter is playing at a higher level than Darren Randolph currently, while the former has been more consistent at club level over the past year or two. Yet Randolph has started off life well at Middlesbrough and is one of only two players (along with Jon Walters), who has played every minute of action for Ireland in the campaign so far. Consequently, Martin O’Neill is unlikely to take a risk by changing net-minders for this big qualifier, and rightfully so.

Defence

Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy seem to have been established as the first-choice central defensive pairing, though Kevin Long came in when Clark was injured for the home match with Austria. Yet with the Cork native unable to get in the Burnley team and the other two playing regularly at Premier League level since the start of the season, expect Clark and Duffy to retain their places.

Cyrus Christie has no obvious challengers for the right-back slot, while at left-back, Stephen Ward hasn’t ever let Ireland down during this campaign. However, with Ireland likely to come up against a stubborn Georgia outfit, the extra attacking thrust that Robbie Brady would provide at full-back could come in handy ultimately.

Midfield

A key question is whether O’Neill will use Glenn Whelan for this game. Only six Ireland players have more minutes under their belt during this campaign than the Aston Villa midfielder, but at 33, it would be a big ask to start him for two big games in the space of three days.

Moreover, against a Georgia side that will likely sit back, Ireland can perhaps adopt a more attacking approach than usual. O’Neill may be tempted to use a goal threat like Conor Hourihane. However, the midfield triangle of Harry Arter, David Meyler and Wes Hoolahan excelled in the Boys in Green’s most recent away match — arguably their best performance of the campaign so far, a 1-0 win over Austria in Vienna. So with that in mind, they can probably be trusted to do a good job again.

Attack

Assuming Jon Walters is fit to play, it will be interesting to see whether O’Neill opts to go with him or Shane Long as the lone striker. Nonetheless, getting two strikers in the team against Georgia, a side that could prove difficult to break down, may be necessary. Daryl Murphy is also a decent alternative — he was excellent when given a chance for the first 70 minutes against Italy in the famous 1-0 win at the Euros, while he made a big difference after coming on in the home match against Austria, helping Ireland to rescue a point last June.

On the left, James McClean, who has played 535 out 540 minutes of the campaign so far, will probably be retained. Meanwhile, Aiden McGeady, so often the hero against Georgia in the past, could be a useful player to bring off the bench if necessary.

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Paul Fennessy

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