Updated at 20.14
WHEN THE TEAMSHEET came through at the Aviva Stadium last night, journalists assumed Cyrus Christie was set to revert right wing-back role.
Against expectations however, the Fulham player lined out as part of a three-man midfield alongside Harry Arter and Callum O’Dowda.
The 26-year-old subsequently produced a disciplined display and could have even hit the winner, with Kasper Schmeichel getting down well to save his powerful second-half drive from just outside the box.
Christie was named man of the match for his efforts, and O’Neill sung his praises in the post-match press conference.
“I thought he was terrific, I thought he did very, very well indeed,” the Irish boss said. “It’s not a problem to him. I have obviously got a lot of faith in him as a player.
He’s athletic, strong and even though he doesn’t always play at Fulham, he keeps himself in really good condition. He has personal trainers, personal coaches, he loves football.
“He’s played full-back for me, he played wing-back, he’s played right-wing as well and he played in the middle. And I thought he did things very well indeed.
“Also, of course, he would help young [Matt] Doherty as well, I thought that was important. [Pione] Sisto playing on that side might definitely cause us a few problems and Cyrus was basically the first one out to him and I thought he did well on that.
“He also had a splendid shot on goal parried away by the goalkeeper, so I was very pleased with him.”
In addition to the Christie experiment, Matt Doherty was handed a competitive debut. The 26-year-old has excelled with Wolves this season, recently winning the Premier League Fans’ Player of the Month award. Having ignored calls to start the Dubliner in the past, O’Neill gave the former Bohs youngster the nod on Saturday night in his favoured right wing-back role. And though he did not get the ball in attacking positions nearly as much as he is used to at club level, it was a generally solid outing for the Dubliner.
“Young Doherty played in his proper position where he plays for Wolves, it made it easier for him,” O’Neill explained. “On that international scene and in particular this game, a competitive match, I wanted to make it as easy as possible and Cyrus had no problem playing in that role just inside him.
Obviously, there’s a lot of expectation on him, because he’s doing fine at Wolves, he’s getting used to the Premier League. They’ve come up and had a splendid start and he has done well.
“Overall, he didn’t do too badly at all. I think he was delighted with the help he was getting around him and I’m sure he can improve.”
Ireland grew into the game more in the second half, having offered minimal attacking threat in the opening 45 minutes. The introduction of Preston attacker Callum Robinson seemed key to this change.
Moreover, after Enda Stevens replaced Callum O’Dowda and Robinson came on for Harry Arter, the Irish team as a whole had a better balance to it. The previously ineffectual Jeff Hendrick was seeing more of the ball in a deeper midfield role, while Stevens looked more comfortable in the left wing-back position than James McClean had prior to that point. Robinson, meanwhile, brought a spark and invention to the side that was absent for much of the opening 45, linking up the play well and showing a willingness to take on opponents.
“Callum came in and I thought he enlivened us for that period really nicely,” O’Neill added. “He took the player on down the touchline and got the crowd going again. It was nice for him to make that sort of impact. I thought he did really fine.”
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