Crunch time

5 talking points ahead of Ireland's massive clash with Scotland

Martin O’Neill has plenty of selection headaches and a win would put his side in pole position for third place.

1. The goalkeeper debate

Kieran Westwood 20/3/2013 Martin O'Neill must sort out the goalkeeping situation. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

ONE MUST FEEL sorry for David Forde amidst all the talk of who will keep guard over the Irish goal on Saturday evening. The Galway man didn’t make his competitive debut until he was 33, and two years on, he looks to have been cast into the wilderness somewhat. Forde never let the Irish down, but Keiren Westwood and Shay Given are likely to be the two that will fight it out for the number one spot on Saturday.

Given has only played 10 games for Aston Villa this season and in his last three club matches, he conceded 11 goals. His form once he came back into Tim Sherwood’s side was good, but as the season drew to a close, his performances started to dip slightly. The half hour of football he played against England will have given Martin O’Neill little indication as to how his goalkeeper is performing either.

On paper at least, Westwood really should be the man to start on Saturday. The Sheffield Wednesday stopper was named in the Championship Team of the Year after his side conceded just 49 goals in 46 games. The 30-year-old was once the first choice under Giovanni Trapattoni, but following Simon Mingolet’s emergence at Sunderland, Westwood drifted back into obscurity. He offers a stable option between the posts for the next five years, and surely, Martin O’Neill will have to put him there eventually.

2. Will Ireland set out to attack?

Shane Long celebrates scoring a goal Shane Long scored against Poland but may not start against Scotland. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

The greatest Irish performances seem to come when the side has nothing to lose and just sets out to attack the opposition. While Saturday doesn’t represent a ‘nothing to lose’ situation, Ireland must get the win by whatever means necessary.

O’Neill is reluctant to approach games with too much of an attacking mentality, and prefers setting up the side with defensive solidity at the forefront of their thoughts. Not conceding would be a huge help on Saturday, but Ireland need goals, and O’Neill has plenty to ponder about who is the most likely to score for his side.

Wes Hoolahan is the subject of endless debate on whether or not he should be selected and what he brings to the team. Should he start, Ireland will more than likely play with only one out-and-out striker. Robbie Keane is not fully fit as of yet, but is still the team’s biggest scoring threat, while Jon Walters was the most successful Irish striker in the Premier League this season. Shane Long is banging on the door for a starting berth after his equaliser against Poland, but it seems unlikely that 28-goal Ipswich striker Daryl Murphy will get a chance up front on Saturday.

3. Can Aiden McGeady finally deliver?

Aiden McGeady McGeady needs to fulfil his early career potential. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that McGeady has failed to live up to his potential over the course of his 76 international caps. Provided he is passed fit to play, it’s time he started to deliver regularly on the big stage. The 29-year-old’s display in Glasgow in the reverse fixture was poor, but he had the excuse that the atmosphere at Celtic Park hindered his performance.

McGeady is, without doubt, one of the most talented individuals that has worn a green jersey over the last 10 years. It would be nice if he levelled a bit of consistency with that talent, however. His fine performance against Georgia in September gives hope that the Scottish-born winger can step his game up on occasion, and there has never been a time where he’s been needed more than now.

A poor performance on Saturday will have the critics climbing all over him — many of them are already calling for him to be dropped — so it’s surely now or never for the Everton speedster.

4. How will Ireland deal with the Scottish left-wing threat?

Andrew Robertson and Jon Walters Andrew Robertson was a constant thorn in the Irish side in November. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

It was an area in which Scotland enjoyed considerable success in the first tie. Left-back Andrew Robertson dovetailed with Ikechi Anya to great effect and this position will likely be their most potent threat again on Saturday.

Anya was surprisingly used as a right-back against Qatar last weekend, but there’s surely no hope of him playing there against Ireland. The Watford winger is a nightmare for defenders, as he is capable of turning onto either foot and boasts lightning acceleration.

Behind Anya will almost certainly be the excellent 21-year-old Hull left-back Robertson, who has proved a huge hit at both club and international level since his breakthrough last year, and his link-up play with the 27-year-old winger has become a potent feature of this Scottish side. When Anya cuts inside, you can be sure that Robertson will be overlapping on the outside. Seamus Coleman will need help from whoever starts in front of him on Saturday to curb the twin threat.

5. What will a win do for Ireland’s qualification hopes?

Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group D - Scotland v Georgia - Ibrox Stadium Scotland face a tough trip away to Georgia next time out. Andrew Milligan Andrew Milligan

Ireland’s final two group games are at home to Germany and away in Poland, so the need for Ireland to get three wins from their next three games is crucial. Right now, the Boys in Green sit two points behind the Scots, so a win would tighten the group up even more.

Poland, who lead the way in Group D, are not un-catchable, so Ireland still have an outside chance of automatic qualification — and moving ahead of Scotland in the table would be a huge step in the right direction.

Scotland have to travel to Georgia still, and Tbilisi has proven to be a tough destination for teams to go to so far in qualifying. If Ireland win on Saturday and follow it up with another two victories, and Scotland fail to beat Georgia, Martin O’Neill’s men will be in a seriously strong position to guarantee at least a third-place finish.

Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane took time out from Scotland preparations to visit Temple Street yesterday

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