The perfect recipe for Ireland’s attack - ‘Carnage, compromise and quality’

“The manager has to pick on form. Chiedozie Ogbene causes fear in opponents and is one of our bright sparks.”

Robbie Keane (left) and Simon Cox.
Robbie Keane (left) and Simon Cox.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

SIMON COX WAS preparing for his Ireland debut alongside Robbie Keane in attack.

The pep talk from the international captain was clear and concise ahead of the Carling Nations Cup clash with Northern Ireland in May 2011.

“One of the first questions he asked me about how I played was whether I could win headers,” Cox laughs.

“Robbie was used to playing with bigger people. I never took a lot of notice of that side of my game but when he asked me that I was like ‘ok, yeah, I’ll have a go at it’. It was not my strong point at all, but I was ready to do whatever he needed.

“He needed to have people around him to flick balls on, so he could be in and around it to pick up the second balls, he was such a clever player he would make sure to find the right position.”

Of the 30 caps Cox earned for Ireland – including at Euro 2012 – it was not always a case of leading the line as part of a settled pairing.

simon-cox-and-robbie-keane-celebrate-at-the-end-of-the-game Cox with Keane in 2011. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Infamously, at those European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, former manager Giovanni Trapattoni tried to utilise the frontman as an extra body in midfield against Spain.

It didn’t work, of course, but understanding the importance of cultivating partnerships on the pitch while on international duty was not lost on Cox.

“The issues you might have, especially early on, when you try to play off just pure instinct is that if you don’t know the player or person that well, you won’t really know they will do,” he explains.

“I knew when I played with Kevin Doyle, for example, that he would always be willing to run in behind, he would be an absolute pest and cause carnage for defences because of his work ethic, but also how clever he was with his runs.

Doyler was so unselfish, and I remember when he first came to Reading and I was there, I watched him from day one and he was brilliant. The mindset and attitude he had that there were never any lost causes.

“He would hound and harass, and he would be as much as a threat as possible. Sometimes you have to do that kind of work that a lot of people don’t see.”

Developing a coherent, vibrant attacking force that can deliver consistently is a challenge Stephen Kenny, like all international managers, must contend with.

Scotland on Saturday will offer another insight into where he views the current pecking order, especially given the four-game Nations League window in June threw up the Michael Obafemi-Troy Parrott axis that proved so lethal in securing a rousing 3-0 win over Steve Clarke’s side at Aviva Stadium.

michael-obafemi-scores-his-sides-third-goal Michael Obafemi lets a stunning shot fly against Scotland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

As they illustrated with a much-improved performance in an impressive 3-0 victory against Ukraine last night, they will be a far different prospect in Glasgow, a factor the Ireland manager must take into consideration.

“Different players offer different qualities together but hard work from both is a must. If one is doing a lot of work and there is a lazy one next to him it’s not going to work,” Cox continues.

“You can’t have one running 13 kilometres and another running six. It doesn’t work that way. You have to be in it together.

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“For the manager, of course it comes down to what is available to you. If you can have two quick players who can come short to feet and link play but also have the power to stretch behind, then that is something very strong for the armoury.

troy-parrott-scores-his-sides-second-goal Troy Parrott heads home against Scotland in June. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“But you can’t put square pegs in round holes and ask players to do something if they’re not capable. When you’re in a pair, do what you’re go at, let the other one do what they’re good at.

“When you complicate things you will struggle.”

There was a deadly simplicity to how Obafemi and Parrott clicked in June. But both have struggled in front of goal for Swansea City and Preston North End, respectively this season (one goal apiece in 20 games combined), while Chiedoze Ogbene’s tally of five in 11 for Rotherham suggests he is in pole position to return to the starting XI.

chiedozie-ogbene-scores-a-goal Chiedozie Ogbene scores a spectacular overhead against Belgium. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

“The manager has to pick on form,” Cox says. “Of course there will always be an element of loyalty to those that have delivered for you but if you keep sticking with it and ignore the form players then people stop believing in what you are doing if others are not getting chances.

“Chiedozie is a really good option, he can score and create, he has a sparkle and a presence. He causes fear for opponents and is one of our bright sparks.

“For him to be showing good form now, and what he has already done for Ireland, he has to play. Then the question is who complements him even more? For me that has to go down to form, not loyalty.”

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