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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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Do you agree with our Ireland team to face Switzerland?

Mick McCarthy has some big calls to make after Saturday’s frustrating stalemate against Georgia.

aaron-connolly Ireland need to beat Switzerland or Denmark to qualify for Euro 2020. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Goalkeeper/Defence

AS MICK MCCARTHY was quick to point out on Saturday in Tbilisi, Darren Randolph did not have one save to make against Georgia.

The hosts enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and created the most attacking opportunities, but failed to force the Middlesborough shot-stopper into a single stop during the 0-0 stalemate. Randolph has been in superb form for club and country in recent seasons and is (to use a terrible cliche) consistently the first name on the team-sheet.

There weren’t many positives to be taken from Saturday’s dreary 0-0 in Tbilisi, but fit-again Shane Duffy and man-of-the-match John Egan accounted themselves very well at the back. There were some initial worries that Richard Keogh’s absence would be a cause for concern heading into the final three qualifiers.

But Egan has been a superb replacement, the 26-year-old finally getting the opportunity at international level which his performances at Sheffield United have been calling out for. The Cork native hit the post with Ireland’s closest sight at goal. Combined with Duffy at the heart of defence, he also helped keep a fourth clean sheet from six qualifiers.

Seamus Coleman had a relatively quiet night against Georgia, defending well when he needed to, and will almost certainly retain his place at right-back. Form-wise over the last 18 months Matt Doherty has been the best Irish player in the Premier League, but again he struggled to replicate his Wolves performance levels against Georgia.

He is at his best deployed at right-wing back, but the Dubliner was crowbared in at left back out of his natural position over the weekend. He enjoyed one excellent, mazy run in the first-half but didn’t offer the same attacking threat which we all know he has in his armoury. Back from suspension, Enda Stevens should slot back in at left-full to complete a solid, reliable backline.

Midfield

It was a tough night for Mick McCarthy’s midfield on Saturday and an even tougher watch for supporters. Chances were few and far between for the visitors and a clear absence of creativity and cutting edge in the middle of the park was a big reason for this.

Although criticised for leaving gaps at the back, Glenn Whelan did actually make some vital blocks and interceptions to deny Georgia. Aside from that, however, the 35-year-old had a night to forget — his distribution was very poor and he was caught for pace on a number of occasions.

jano-ananidze-and-conor-hourihane Jano Ananidze and Conor Hourihane. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick were also frustrating. Both are Premier League midfielders and established internationals, but neither was able to provide any real influence. 

Hourihane did provide the cross for Egan’s header which hit the post. That chance was Ireland’s biggest sight at goal all night and the Aston Villa man’s threat from set-pieces (like his free-kick against Georgia in Dublin) cannot be overlooked. 

Jack Byrne made an excellent first impression during last month’s friendly against Bulgaria, but Mick McCarthy is unlikely to start the 23-year-old in such a high-stakes qualifier away from home considering Ireland need to beat either Switzerland or Denmark to qualify.

Like Byrne, Josh Cullen was also excellent against Bulgaria, make no bones about it. While it is extremely tempting to start Byrne and/or Cullen, the pair must be taken in context: together they have just over 120 minutes of senior international football between them.

Parachuting either man into the starting XI with such little experience at this level in a pivotal qualifier away from home would put massive pressure on their shoulders, something McCarthy is unlikely to do despite their obvious talent and promise. 

This means that despite his underwhelming display versus Georgia, Whelan will likely retain his spot anchoring a midfield trio. Alan Browne played 15 minutes off the bench on Saturday. The Preston playmaker could offer that little bit of spark to create chances for Robinson and Connolly up front instead of Hendrick, as could Alan Judge.

Attack

The stats were not kind to James McClean against Georgia. We all know the Stoke City man has bucketloads of passion when representing his country and will always try his best — but he gave away possession a sum total 25 times against Georgia.

Trusted consistently by Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy over the last four qualifying campaigns, the 30-year-old may finally make way for a more potent, dangerous option on the left flank.

Either Callum O’Dowda or Judge could be brought into the starting XI. A creative outside, Judge is a threat with his pinpoint delivery and set-piece ability, while O’Dowda’s crossing from the flank may also provide an improvement on McClean.

Callum Robinson has been a solid performer since making his senior debut against Wales in the Uefa Nations League. He has looked at home in the Premier League with Sheffield (scoring against Chelsea) and is currently Ireland’s best option on the wing.

Up top, James Collins didn’t produce a shot on target in Tbilisi, but this cannot be entirely blamed on the Luton striker as service to Collins was virtually non-existent. All that said, the difference in attacking quality Ireland showcased following the introduction of Aaron Connolly cannot be overlooked.

The 19-year-old scored a superb brace against Tottenham a fortnight ago and produced two massive chances during his 16 minute cameo off the bench — almost snatching a dramatic winner with a brilliant run behind in stoppage time.

With David McGoldrick officially ruled out and McCarthy admitting the young Galway attacker ‘is ready to start’ against Switzerland, Connolly should get his opportunity to lead the line after a throughly encouraging debut against Georgia and his double against Spurs.

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About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

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