Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 3°C
# Predictions
Open thread: What should the Ireland team to face Scotland be?
Our writers give their thoughts ahead of Saturday’s crucial Euro 2016 qualifier.

Updated at 22.32

THE TALKING IS almost over as the biggest game of Martin O’Neill’s tenure approaches. 

The squad have been in camp for nearly two weeks now with the England friendly offering us an insight into what the manager may be thinking ahead of the visit of Scotland.

Unlike his predecessor, O’Neill keeps his cards fairly close to his chest so we’ll all have to wait until Saturday evening to discover the XI he sends out but until then, here’s what our writers think the Ireland team will be. 

Paul Fennessy

Westwood; Coleman, O’Shea, Wilson, Brady; Walters, Arter, McCarthy, McGeady; Hoolahan; Long.

Daryl Murphy Morgan Treacy / INPHO Could Daryl Murphy have forced his way into the reckoning? Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

The robust approach didn’t really work last November, so Ireland’s best chance of beating Scotland is surely by playing some possession football in midfield.

I’m not convinced Martin O’Neill is thinking along similar lines though, so expect more of an emphasis to be placed on physicality, as it was against England last week. The one big surprise that seems feasible is the inclusion of Daryl Murphy in the side. O’Neill, throughout his managerial career, has favoured a big man up top, and with Murphy enjoying career-best form at Ipswich, he may well be given the nod in attack amid an otherwise predictable enough starting lineup.

Ryan Bailey

Given; Coleman, O’Shea, Wilson, Brady; Walters, Whelan, McCarthy, McGeady; Hoolahan; Long.

Wes Hoolahan Donall Farmer / INPHO Wes Hoolahan didn't feature in the friendly against England Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Martin O’Neill’s team selection for the visit of England surprised many but I don’t think you can read too much into it ahead of the serious business this weekend. With Harry Arter’s absence through injury, there aren’t too many big decisions the Ireland manager will have to mull over.

As we saw in the last qualifier against Poland, O’Neill – just like his predecessor – likes to fill his side with hard-working, industrious players and Jon Walters being deployed on the wing is an example of that. The defence picks itself and it’s unlikely O’Neill will substitute the experience of Given between the sticks for Westwood, who started against England.

Robbie Keane is unlikely to be fit enough and Shane Long deserves his chance but Daryl Murphy may have done enough against The Three Lions to force his way into the reckoning.

Ben Blake

Given; Coleman, O’Shea, Wilson, Brady; McCarthy, Whelan; Walters, Hoolahan, McGeady; Long.

Robbie Brady Morgan Treacy / INPHO Despite his mistake against Poland, Robbie Brady is expected to start at left-back Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Keiren Westwood started in between the sticks for the 0-0 draw with England, but 39-year-old Shay Given is still the best goalkeeper Ireland possess. Three of the back four really pick themselves and, despite his mistake against Poland, I believe Robbie Brady has shown that he is the best option at left full-back. His deliveries from set-pieces will also be important.

In the reverse fixture last November, O’Neill opted to start with a 4-4-2 formation but Jeff Hendrick and Darron Gibson struggled to compete with the Scots in midfield. Neither James McCarthy nor Glenn Whelan were available that night and their inclusions as screens for the backline could prove pivotal.

On the wings, I’d go for Jon Walters for his physical presence, industry and tendency to cause opponents problems and Aiden McGeady as he has the ability to create a match-winning moment — even if he is frustratingly inconsistent. Wes Hoolahan will provide a creative spark in possession while also dropping back into middle when Scotland have the ball.

Shane Long deserves his place as the lone striker after his equaliser against the Poles. Then Robbie Keane can be sprung from the bench if needed and James McClean is a valuable impact sub to have too.

Patrick Ward

Given; Coleman, Wilson, O’Shea, Brady; McGeady, Whelan, McCarthy, McClean; Keane, Walters.

Jon Walters James Crombie / INPHO Jon Walters has become a key player for the Boys in Green James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Given is the best option for Ireland in goals at the moment. Westwood had a fine season with Sheffield Wednesday but Given’s experience will be needed against Scotland.

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In November, Ireland were exposed down both wings and over-run in central midfield but O’Neill will surely have his side better set up to deal with the threat of Andrew Robertson and Ikechi Anya this time around.

If Anya plays on the right, James McClean is the best option to help the defensively suspect Robbie Brady to curb his threat. James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan are welcome returnees to the side having missed the previous defeat.

Ireland traditionally play better with two up front and Walters and Keane are the best combination. It’s sad to still be relying on Keane but he’s our best goalscorer and Shane Long can provide the energy off the bench that we may require.

Neil Treacy

Westwood; Coleman, Wilson, O’Shea, Brady; McGeady, McCarthy, Whelan, McClean; Walters, Keane.

Kieren Westwood and Shay Given Donall Farmer / INPHO Will Westwood get the nod over Given after starting against England? Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

The heart says Wes Hoolohan should slot in behind the lone Shane Long, but the head says Walters and Keane will get the nod.

McCarthy, Whelan, McGeady and McClean are the expected four to play in midfield, and I can’t see any reason to break them up.

Similarly, the defence is a consistent selection, with Robbie Brady continuing at left back. It’s not ideal, given his lack of experience in the position, but Brady will offer a lot going forward, and is the best option on set-pieces.

Goalkeeper is the big call, but I think Westwood deserves his chance after consistently performing between the sticks for Sheffield Wednesday. Given may have the experience, but Westwood is more than up for the job on Saturday.

What do you think? Should O’Neill go with Keane or Long or both? Does Westwood deserve his chance? 

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