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Do you agree with our Ireland team to face Scotland?

Stephen Kenny has some tough calls to make for Saturday’s game.

The Irish team (file pic).
The Irish team (file pic).
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

Goalkeeper and defence

Southampton’s number one Gavin Bazunu, who has impressed since making the summer move worth up to €18.5 million, is one of the first names on the teamsheet when fit, and so barring a last-minute injury, he will certainly feature ahead of Mark Travers and Max O’Leary.

Defence is a bit more complicated. Shane Duffy has started nearly every game under Stephen Kenny — only Matt Doherty played more from the outset in the former Dundalk manager’s first 20 matches as coach. Yet the Derry native has only started once in the League Cup for Fulham this season, coupled with two last-minute cameos in the Premier League. Whatever decision Kenny makes will feel like a big call, but the manager may be tempted to go with the more in-form defenders.

Similar to Duffy, Seamus Coleman has not been playing regularly this season, albeit partially due to an injury he has been recovering from. His only appearance so far has come in an EFL Cup match against Fleetwood.

Nathan Collins may have had a bad day at the weekend, with his rash challenge on Jack Grealish resulting in a red card amid Wolves’ 3-0 loss to Man City. However, the Leixlip native has at least been playing regularly in the Premier League — with seven top-flight starts under his belt so far this campaign — while he was arguably Ireland’s standout performer in the last international window.

John Egan, meanwhile, has had an encouraging start to the season. His Sheffield United side are currently top of the Championship table and the Cork native has made 11 appearances, while the 29-year-old’s form has even seen him linked with a move to West Ham of late.

So with Egan and Collins expected to play, the third centre-back role is the most difficult to predict. Andrew Omobamidele looked well positioned before injury ruled him out of these matches. Dara O’Shea has been doing well at West Brom — who recently gave him the captain’s armband — and so he appears to be a strong candidate.

Liam Scales is the only other possible option but the uncapped late call-up will likely have to settle for a place on the bench.

Wing-backs

Matt Doherty is favourite to play in the right wing-back role, despite a disappointing start to the season that has seen him make just two late substitute appearances for Spurs.

33-year-old Seamus Coleman’s days of playing in that position are probably over, given his dwindling pace. Kenny went with Alan Browne in that position in the last two Nations League games because the Dubliner was unavailable, but the boss is expected to revert back to Doherty for the upcoming games.

Midfield

Josh Cullen has developed into a key player under Kenny and almost always starts these days. The 26-year-old has been playing regularly since joining Vincent Kompany’s Burnley from Anderlecht, making 10 Championship appearances, and so is virtually assured of a place in the team on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Jayson Molumby and Jason Knight started the last two games against Scotland and Ukraine. Their energy was a big reason why Ireland improved after a poor start to the international window, and so Kenny may continue with the same personnel, with both players getting plenty of game time at club level.

Jeff Hendrick has been playing regularly too for the Championship’s third-place team Reading, and so is another good option in midfield.

Of the remaining players listed as midfielders, that leaves Alan Browne, Conor Hourihane and Callum O’Dowda. Kenny has certainly been happy to play all of those individuals in the past but they are not expected to feature from the outset this time around.

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Though Liam Scales can also play there, the left wing-back spot is set to be a close call between James McClean and Robbie Brady. The latter is back in the Ireland squad for the first time since March 2021, with a combination of lack of form and injury problems keeping him out in the intervening period. However, the Dubliner has impressed since joining Preston at the start of the season and so looks in a good place to add to his 57 caps. But playing away from home against a Scottish side with raiding full-backs, Kenny may look at McClean as the safer option who is more equipped to deal with the hosts’ attacking threat owing to his phenomenal work rate and physicality.

Attack

There are plenty of decent choices up front, but Kenny could well go for the pair of Michael Obafemi and Troy Parrott — each of the duo found the net and generally caused havoc against the Scots in Dublin.

On the other hand, they have just one goal between them in the Championship this season. Parrott has only found the net once — in the League Cup — in 12 appearances for Preston, while Obafemi has only started six out of 10 matches for Swansea. He lost his place for the Welsh side recently after manager Russell Martin suggested he wasn’t “in the right frame of mind” to play following interest from Burnley, which came to nothing, before the transfer window shut.

Chiedozie Ogbene, Scott Hogan and Callum Robinson are the alternative options, and all three players have had decent starts to their seasons in the Championship — both Hogan and Ogbene have scored five goals at club level this season, though Robinson has yet to open his account.

Ireland XI: Bazunu; Egan, Collins, O’Shea; Doherty, McClean; Molumby, Cullen, Knight; Obafemi, Parrott.

lineup

Originally published at 18.42

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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