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Do you agree with our Ireland team to face Serbia?

Stephen Kenny has some tough calls to make ahead of Wednesday’s key World Cup qualifier.

Goalkeeper

With Caoimhin Kelleher and Darren Randolph ruled out, goalkeeper will be an area of concern for Stephen Kenny.

Of the three in the squad, only 19-year-old Gavin Bazunu has been playing regular football this season at club level.

However, it’s understood that Kenny will likely turn to Bournemouth number two, Mark Travers. 

The 21-year-old has been capped twice by Ireland at senior level and already has three Premier League appearances to his name, and so, is no stranger to big occasions.

Like Travers, 24-year-old Kieran O’Hara also has two senior caps, but lost his place in the Burton Albion team recently and is not expected to feature for Ireland this time around.

Defenders

Shane Duffy has generally been one of the first names on the team-sheet ever since his impressive showing for Ireland at Euro 2016. Yet poor form that has seen him lose his place at Celtic, which means that for the first time in a long while, some critics are beginning to question whether the 29-year-old warrants a spot in the starting XI.

Prior to this game, Stephen Kenny has acknowledged that the centre-back has not enjoyed the best of campaigns, but tellingly mentioned that he has seldom let Ireland down in the past, and so it would still be a major surprise if the Derry native was dropped for the upcoming qualifiers.

With regular starter John Egan injured, it’s probably between Ciaran Clark and Dara O’Shea as to who slots in alongside Duffy. The Newcastle man has enjoyed a decent season individually, lining out regularly for the Magpies, and you suspect his big-game experience will give him the edge over the West Brom youngster.

Left-back appears to be one of the easiest selections to call, with Enda Stevens expected to start and Swansea’s Ryan Manning available in reserve if needed.

At right-back, Kenny has preferred Matt Doherty to Seamus Coleman in the past, but the feeling that the Spurs man has had a disappointing season at club level — he didn’t even make the bench in their most recent game against Aston Villa — might be enough to ensure the Everton star reclaims the spot he has held for the majority of his career.

Midfield

With the likes of Conor Hourihane, James McCarthy and Harry Arter unavailable through injury, there aren’t an abundance of experienced options to call upon in midfield. Jeff Hendrick is likely to be one exception. The 29-year-old has not had an especially consistent campaign at Newcastle — the last time he completed 90 minutes in a game was January — but as the most senior figure available in that role, will probably get the nod.

The other more defensive midfield spot seems to be between Jason Knight, Josh Cullen and Jayson Molumby. Molumby was a favourite of Kenny’s at U21 level, as the Brighton youngster regularly captained the team. With five senior caps, the 21-year-old is hardly totally inexperienced at this level either, and he has done reasonably well on the previous occasions he’s been picked. The only concern will be his relative lack of game time. He didn’t get much of a look in at Brighton during the first half of the campaign and even since his loan move to Preston at the beginning of January, he has made just seven starts in the Championship.

Having impressed off the bench in the Slovakia play-off last October, Alan Browne may be given a chance to start in the more attacking midfield role that Hourihane probably would have occupied had he been available. Kenny could also play Robbie Brady in this position, but he has not enjoyed the best of seasons at Burnley — his last start came in January — and so he might have to settle for a place on the bench and possibly a second-half introduction if Ireland need to pose more of an attacking threat.

Attack

This is probably the hardest area to call. With David McGoldrick retired, there is no obvious alternative to the Sheffield United star in the squad. The two ostensible options for the target man are Shane Long and James Collins. Long has made just four starts since his loan move to Bournemouth in January, while Collins has also been left out of the Luton starting XI more often than not lately.

Whether Long at 34 still has the ability to play 90 minutes at this level with his customary intensity is doubtful, and so 30-year-old Collins may be favoured from the outset, with the Tipperary native a useful impact sub potentially.

On the flanks, James McClean and Aaron Connolly would be strong contenders to play normally, but doubts surrounding their fitness mean they might have to sit this one out.

Callum Robinson likes that wide attacking role and was given the nod to start in Slovakia, though he is another struggling for game time at club level, with his most recent appearance for West Brom coming on 2 February.

Kenny has an association with Daryl Horgan going back to their days together in the League of Ireland with Dundalk and the Wycombe star is an outside bet to feature, having started all three of Ireland’s games in November.

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The other attacking options, meanwhile, Troy Parrott and Ronan Curtis, probably still have to do a bit more to get into the starting XI at this early stage in their careers.

Predicted Ireland starting XI to face Serbia:

Travers.

Coleman, Duffy, Clark, Stevens.

Hendrick, Molumby.

Browne.

Robinson, Collins, Connolly.

11

- Originally published at 06.30 

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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