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Judge to replace Hoolahan and 4 more Ireland-Bosnia talking points

Also, Murphy’s time to shine and set pieces could be key.

Judge was recently named the Championship player of the month.
Judge was recently named the Championship player of the month.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

1. Judge can replace tiring Hoolahan from the bench

IN YESTERDAY’S PRESS conference, Martin O’Neill indicated Wes Hoolahan was unlikely to last 90 minutes in both these upcoming play-off games.

When the Norwich man was asked whether he could play two games over the space of four days, he sounded slightly more optimistic, commenting: “Hopefully. We’ll see how the games pan out and see how it is.”

Without Hoolahan for much of the game against Poland, Ireland looked desperately short of creativity, scoring from a fortuitous penalty and rarely looking like scoring thereafter.

Vital as he is, Hoolahan must listen to his body, and if he doesn’t feel fit enough to play a full part in both these matches, he is obliged to be honest and inform his manager, as happened against Poland.

Ireland aren’t blessed with many Hoolahan-type players, yet there is one other gifted midfielder in the squad with a penchant for playing defence-splitting passes. 26-year-old Brentford midfielder, Alan Judge, is in superb form right now, winning the Championship’s Player of the Month for October.

Speaking to The42 recently, while stressing that he was not expecting to feature in these games, Judge added that he would be ready if called upon. Martin O’Neill indicated yesterday that Judge was “desperate to be part of things,” though the player has yet to win a senior cap for Ireland.

However, the Irish side aren’t blessed with many players capable of producing something out of nothing, with Judge probably being the closest the team has to a like-for-like replacement for Hoolahan.

Bringing the 33-year-old off for Judge at some point in the game would undoubtedly be a risk, but Martin O’Neill has not been afraid to introduce inexperienced players (Cyrus Christie, Darren Randolph) in big games previously during this campaign, and so he may be tempted to include the in-form Judge in his plans tonight.

2. Murphy’s time to shine

The Gibratar games aside, scoring goals has been a bit of a problem for Ireland in recent times.

Over the course of 10 games, they managed to score 19 goals — not bad, until you remember that 11 of these came against Gibraltar. The record was paltry in comparison to their rivals — Germany (24), Poland (33) and even Scotland (22) managed more.

Again, excluding those Gibraltar matches, Ireland haven’t scored more than once in a competitive fixture since 7 September 2014 in the very first group qualifier against Georgia.

What makes the outlook even more grim is that literally all of Ireland’s goalscorers in the non-Gibraltar games during this qualifying campaign, with the exception of Aiden McGeady who is not expected to play, will definitely be absent tonight (Jon Walters, John O’Shea and Shane Long).

If you’re looking for some optimism, Daryl Murphy, who has yet to score in 16 appearances for Ireland and is favourite to start up front tonight, managed a hat-trick last weekend, albeit against Championship strugglers Rotherham.

Robbie Keane, meanwhile, as he was eager to remind people recently, has 20 goals in 24 appearances for LA Galaxy, not to mention his 67 goals to date for Ireland.

3. Dzeko and Pjanic could make the difference

Bosnia Soccer Euro 2016 Ireland Edin Dzeko pictured during press conference in Zenica. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Sometimes at international level, a star player can make a huge difference.

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Roy Keane dragged Ireland kicking and screaming to the 2002 World Cup, while Gareth Bale inspired Wales to similar heights this year for the Euro qualifiers.

In Ireland’s last match, by far the best player on the pitch, Robert Lewandowski, headed a superb winner to send Poland to France at the expense of the Boys in Green.

Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanić, while not quite on Lewandowski’s level, are far superior to any options that Ireland possess in attack.

More ominously still, after injury problems disrupted the start of his season, Dzeko is finally starting to find some form for Roma.

4. How keenly will Irish absences be felt

The Irish rugby team recently showed how big an impact the loss of leaders can have, and Jon Walters and John O’Shea are key in that regard, while Shane Long’s influence will also be badly missed.

Even if they all make the second leg, there is a danger that the situation could be virtually irretrievable at that stage, if things go Bosnia’s way tonight.

Of course, if you’re optimistic, you can focus on how these absences will provide opportunities for less heralded members of the squad to step up and show the team what they’ve been missing.

Indeed, Whelan’s absence against the Germans highlighted how good McCarthy can be in the sitting midfield role in his place, while Ireland were not necessarily weakened considerably when Cyrus Christie came in for Seamus Coleman against Gibraltar and Germany.

5. Set pieces could well decide this game

Bosnia are not the most technically gifted side in the world, and so like Ireland, they can have a problem creating chances at times.

However, attacking set pieces is one area from which Mehmed Baždarević’s team are particularly proficient. The goals in their impressive recent 2-0 win over Wales came from a free kick and a corner respectively, while Pjanic in particular is a renowned dead ball specialist who looks bound to seriously test Darren Randolph should the opportunity arise.

Ireland, by contrast, tend to be a mixed bag at best when it comes to set-piece deliveries.

Robbie Brady normally strikes the ball extremely well, but in the most recent match against Poland, the 23-year-old Dubliner had a bit of a nightmare, with seemingly every set piece being lofted up unmenacingly for the keeper to collect comfortably.

Consequently, this appears to be another area where Bosnia hold the advantage over their opponents.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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