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Here's what the Ireland team to face Serbia should be

Martin O’Neill has some big selection calls to make after Saturday night’s disappointing result in Georgia.

The Irish team had a difficult night against Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday.
The Irish team had a difficult night against Georgia in Tbilisi on Saturday.

Updated at 20.07

Goalkeeper and defence

THE IRISH BACK four were not actually too bad against Georgia in terms of their actual defending at least, so O’Neill is unlikely to make many if any changes in this area.

The performances of Darren Randolph, Ciaran Clark and Shane Duffy were among the few positives to be taken from Tbilisi.

As with most of the Irish team though, the distribution from full-backs Cyrus Christie and Stephen Ward was disappointing on Saturday.

Yet without any obvious alternative, Christie should retain his place in the side tomorrow evening.

At left-back, Robbie Brady could revert to the position, having impressed in an attacking sense from there in the past. The 25-year-old is not as solid defensively as his club colleague, Ward, but offers more going forward.

Tomorrow night is a must-win game for Ireland, so opting with Brady in defence would be the kind of bold selection call that seems appropriate for the occasion.

Midfield

Ireland’s midfield was so poor on Saturday that none of the individuals involved in this area could have cause for complaint if they are dropped.

In a game in which the onus is on Ireland to win, more creativity will surely be needed to achieve success tomorrow evening.

David Meyler performed well against Austria in November, in a game that was significantly Ireland’s best team performance of the campaign by a distance, and the Hull player will have felt unlucky not to have retained a starting XI place in the long-term.

At 28, Cork native Meyler is five years younger than Glenn Whelan and would provide the team with more energy and athleticism as a consequence.

Harry Arter did not have the best of games at the weekend, as reflected by his 61st-minute substitution. However, if he plays, O’Neill will hope the Bournemouth star can be inspired by the home crowd to emulate the kind of dynamic performances he delivers regularly in the Premier League.

Conor Hourihane seems the only other realistic option in midfield, and while he has delivered some eye-catching displays at club level so far for Aston Villa this season, handing him a first competitive cap in Ireland’s biggest game of the campaign so far would be a big call.

Attack

This area is complicated by the fact that two contenders to start, Wes Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady, have picked up knocks and are not certain to be available. Assuming everyone is fit though, the Norwich star in particular has strong claims to play from the beginning, after his courage on the ball and creativity were sorely missed in Tbilisi.

Robbie Brady did not do enough on Saturday to suggest he is a viable long-term option in the number 10 role, though O’Neill faces a selection dilemma in attempting to accommodate a number of important players.

James McClean was arguably the best of a bad Irish bunch on Saturday owing to his remarkable endeavour, and so he surely deserves to keep his place.

Jon Walters was poor at the weekend, as was Shane Long, though both have produced important moments for Ireland at key times during the Martin O’Neill era, and so will expect to retain their places in the team.

One way of accommodating Hoolahan, who has been a vital player for Ireland in the past, would be to put Brady at left-back and sacrifice Stephen Ward.

Ireland will need to be brave on the ball if they are to win this game, and so making room for as many ball players in the team as possible will likely be needed to avoid another Georgia-esque debacle.

Predicted starting XI: Randolph; Ward, Duffy, Clark, Christie; McClean, Arter, Whelan, Brady, Walters; Long.

Our choice of starting XI…

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Paul Fennessy

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