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Dublin: 7 °C Thursday 23 January, 2020

McCarthy must step up for Ireland against Scotland

The Everton midfielder needs to help move the margins in Ireland’s favour when they take on the nation of his birth on Saturday.

FOR MANY FANS on both sides of the Irish Sea, last Sunday’s friendly between the Ireland and England was a lacklustre bore draw, with ITV apologising to their fans afterwards for the lack of quality football on action.

Little remained in the memory of the game, with the most notable talking point being the relentless booing of Raheem Sterling due to the England winger’s desire to leave Liverpool.

Similarly, last October’s Euro 2016 qualifier between Scotland and Ireland was a drab affair, as the hosts ran out 1-0 winners and repeatedly taunted Scottish born Aiden McGeady from the stands.

McGeady’s fellow Scottish-born compatriot James McCarthy missed that game through injury, avoiding the jeers, but also leaving a void in the Irish centre. The Everton midfielder has continued to develop at club level, but still has yet to give a barnstorming performance for the Boys in Green.

Against England, his partnership with Glenn Whelan was further honed, with Whelan sitting deep and McCarthy afforded more licence to roam forward.

This combination will be crucial to Ireland’s hope of a positive result at home to Scotland, and with it, any chance of reaching the European Championship. While Whelan has been the most consistent performer under Martin O’Neill, fans have still not seen the best of McCarthy. The 24-year-old has 26 caps for Ireland, but none will be as big or as important as his 27th against the nation of his birth.

England manager Roy Hodgson is among many predicting a tense, close encounter between Ireland and Scotland. “I think it’s going to be a really ding-dong battle next week,” Hodgson told reporters after the 0-0 friendly draw in Dublin. “It will very competitive, and very exciting.

“In the game next Saturday, every time the ball is bouncing in the Ireland box or the Scotland box, Martin and his staff or Gordon and his staff are going to be really excited, and so will the fans.”

With games like this one being decided by the smallest of margins, the midfield battle will have a much greater significance in turning the tide in either side’s favour. If Ireland are to stand any chance of beating their near neighbours, then McCarthy must stand up and make the difference.

The midfielder has been linked with an Everton exit this week, while playing against your birth country is a huge challenge for any footballer. However, McCarthy must leave all these distractions behind him and give everything on the pitch.

This 90 minutes will go a long way towards deciding if McCarthy and Ireland play at next summer’s European Championship.

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