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Will O'Neill stick with diamond and more talking points ahead of Ireland-Georgia

Plus, who will start up front and will Martin O’Neill place faith in Aiden McGeady.

Image: Adam Davy

1. Who will start up front for Ireland?

WITH THE GOALKEEPER and defence — Seamus Coleman aside — expected to be unchanged from Gibraltar, and the midfield trio of Glenn Whelan, James McCarthy and Jeff Hendrick also unlikely to be altered, it is surely in attack where Martin O’Neill’s biggest selection dilemma lies.

With Daryl Murphy, who started in the last home qualifier against Scotland, currently unavailable, Robbie Keane, Shane Long and Jon Walters appear to be the main candidates for a starting spot against Georgia this evening.

All three impressed, albeit against Gibraltar, on Friday evening — Long and Keane both scored, while Walters was named man-of-the-match.

With the exception of the Gibraltar match at home, Walters has played every minute of the campaign so far, so it would be a major surprise if the Stoke man was omitted.

Consequently, it would appear to be a straight choice between Long and Keane for the other spot up front.

Discounting games against Gibraltar, the pair have just one goal between them so far in the qualifying campaign — Long’s last-gasp strike against Poland. And of those games, the Tipperary native has just started once (Scotland away), while Keane has featured from the beginning three times (against Georgia, Germany and Poland).

Long and Keane have never been paired together from the start during this campaign, though they did both come on in the most recent match with Scotland.

The LA Galaxy star is conceivably the bigger goal threat, though Long tends to provide more in the general play. It’s a difficult decision ultimately, but Martin O’Neill’s recent comments lamenting the Southampton player’s lack of a killer instinct in front of goal would suggest he is edging towards opting for the veteran star ahead of the Tipperary native once more.

2. Will O’Neill place faith in McGeady?

Few people seem to want Aiden McGeady to succeed more than Martin O’Neill. The Ireland boss gave the winger his debut as a teenager at Celtic and talks about the player at times in an almost fatherly tone.

However, despite O’Neill’s firm support of the player, there is only so much the 63-year-old coach can do before his patience wears thin.

McGeady played through the pain barrier against Poland at home without consulting his club, and picked up another injury in the friendly against England last June, ruling him out of the crucial subsequent Scotland match in the process.

Consequently, it’s fair to say that the Boys in Green haven’t seen the best of McGeady since he excelled in the away fixture with Georgia, and neither have Everton — the 29-year-old has fallen down the pecking order at Goodison Park and has been heavily linked with a loan move away from the Toffees recently.

The temptation to play McGeady is due to his ability to produce the kind of skills that no other player in the Ireland side is capable of — yet such brilliance has been realised all too sporadically in his Ireland career, and so selecting the out-of-form winger would be considered a big gamble on O’Neill’s part.

3. Ireland must be wary of Georgian youngsters

Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group D - Georgia v Republic of Ireland - Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

(Jano Ananidze was once linked with Arsenal and Liverpool)

There are no obvious stars in the Georgian squad — the team are made up of players from clubs such as Dinamo Tbilisi, Genk and Reims.

However, as they demonstrated in the reverse fixture, Georgia are a side with a solid backbone who are invariably difficult to beat.

In Vitesse’s Guram Kashia, Georgia possess an experienced defender capable of marshalling a backline well. They also have a few promising youngsters, in 22-year-olds Valeri Kazaishvili (also with Vitesse) and Jano Ananidze (Spartak Moscow).

Ananidze, in particular, has been seen as the great hope of Georgian football. In 2009, at 17, Liverpool and Arsenal were rumoured to be battling it out for his signature. However, the player’s progress has seemingly stalled in recent years, and he still struggles to regularly feature in the Spartak side. Nonetheless, Ananidze is a regular for Georgia and remains a player Ireland need to keep a close eye on.

Kazaishvili, similarly, is highly thought of, and took his goal against Scotland extremely well last week.

4. Exactly how good are Georgia?

Georgia have seemingly gone from being no hopers to formidable opponents in the space of a week.

There is no doubt Ireland should be wary of their group rivals. Any team that beats Scotland — something Ireland twice failed to do — cannot be readily dismissed.

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Georgia have clearly benefited from a change of manager, with new boss Kakhaber Tskhadadze replacing Temuri Ketsbaia, who stepped down following the 4-0 loss to Poland. However, whether they have improved substantially since they met the Irish side in Tbilisi last year is doubtful.

As Martin O’Neill noted in his press conference yesterday, the visitors are taking this evening’s game very seriously, flying out to Ireland more or less straight after their defeat of Scotland. The Georgians even still have an outside chance of qualification, and will be in buoyant mood following the Scottish win.

But player for player, Ireland are undoubtedly the superior outfit. Anything other than three points would put the Boys in Green’s qualification hopes in jeopardy, and consequently, anything less than a win will be widely viewed as unacceptable.

5. Will Ireland stick with diamond formation?

An attacking mindset is required tonight against a Georgian side that is likely to put men behind the ball, and it will be fascinating to see what formation O’Neill ultimately chooses.

In most of the games so far, the 63-year-old coach has played a man behind the striker — usually Wes Hoolahan, or Aiden McGeady in the earlier parts of the campaign.

However, even against a poor side such as Gibraltar, Ireland looked a little too narrow and lacked fluency at times.

Against Georgia, O’Neill will be tempted to play a more expansive game and could turn to James McClean and Aiden McGeady to provide the side with some width.

Nonetheless, in order to play with wingers, O’Neill may feel he needs to sacrifice Wes Hoolahan, who has been one of his side’s best and most inventive players going forward during the campaign.

Whatever team is picked though, expect no shortage of nervy and frustrating moments, with the Georgians likely to prove difficult to break down as usual.

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Paul Fennessy

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