By Liam Mackey
Martin O’Neill has accused Alan Shearer of not doing his homework before singling out Cyrus Christie for criticism on MOTD2.
And, in mounting a defence of his international full-back, the Ireland manager also made a scornful reference to Shearer’s short-lived tenure as boss of Newcastle United in 2009.
BBC pundit Shearer highlighted what he regarded as recurring deficiencies in Christie’s performance when analysing Fulham’s 5-1 defeat to Arsenal on Sunday, suggesting the player was “constantly going forward, not worrying about defending”.
But, according to O’Neill, Christie has since told him that, deployed as a wing-back in the game by Slavisa Jokanovic, he was simply following his manager’s instructions.
“They’re very important. Mostly now, it is that they ask the wing-backs to stay very, very high up the pitch and not worry about coming back.
“I’ve asked Cyrus this, which was the first thing I thought of when Alan Shearer was having a go: ‘He hasn’t thought this out’. He should have prefaced things by saying ‘I don’t know what the manager has said’ because, at the end of the day, the manager has asked him to stay up the pitch and not worry about getting back.
“I don’t think the severe criticism was warranted, that’s my view. I don’t think everything was down to him and the first thing I thought about when Shearer was saying those things is ‘you should be asking the question’. Maybe that’s why he only managed seven games. That might be something to do with it.”
(In fact, for the record, Shearer managed eight games in the Newcastle hotseat, while something O’Neill neglected to mention yesterday that it was his Aston Villa side who actually sealed the Magpies’ relegation after beating them 1-0 thanks to a Damien Duff own goal).
In stark contrast to Christie’s difficult weekend, Matt Doherty had another Premier League outing to remember for Wolves, scoring the winner in their 1-0 victory away to Crystal Palace as O’Neill looked on at Selhurst Park.
With Ireland’s first-choice full-backs, Seamus Coleman and Stephen Ward, out injured, Christie and Doherty are clearly in contention for a starting place against Denmark on Saturday. But while many believe that Doherty’s form in the top-flight makes him the only logical replacement for Coleman, that would mean Christie — a player in whom O’Neill has a lot of faith — either missing out or being moved to the left.
Asked about his options, O’Neill appeared to suggest that much could depend on which system he chooses for Saturday’s game.
“I was there at Palace on Saturday and I thought Wolves were very ordinary in the first half.
“In the second half they improved and he is doing really well, really great. It’s nice to see. So if he is going to come in here you’d like things to be as comfortable for him as possible and if we make adjustments for him, so be it.
“If we do go with the wing-back role, he has been doing exceptionally well there. And he would be comfortable with that rather than being in a normal right-back role.”
O’Neill chuckled when informed yesterday that Jurgen Klopp had described the Nations League as “the most senseless competition in the world”. But he did admit to some sympathy for the plight of the club manager.
“I don’t mind saying, going back to when I was managing at club level, friendly games were the bane of your life,” he said, “and I assume that people like Klopp probably think that these matches are glorified friendly games so I understand that.”
But as a manager who has seen the view from both sides, O’Neill now knows differently which is why he said he “totally” appreciates Preston’s willingness to entrust Sean Maguire to his care this week even though the player has only managed one brief appearance off the bench for his club since recovering from a serious hamstring problem.
“Somebody who has had a bit of history as Seanie’s had in the last 14 or 16 months with hamstring problems, the last thing they want to see is him coming in off 15 minutes at club level, finding him playing for us at a big level, and his hamstring going again, as they need him,” he said.
Meanwhile, O’Neill said that the peace summit between Roy Keane and Harry Arter “went exceptionally well” but declined to say if the two shook hands. “I’m not going into intimate details,” he smiled. “They’re absolutely fine.”
In squad news, Shane Long missed yesterday’s open training session at the Aviva to go for scan on his ankle.
“It’s not painful but his ankle is swollen and he’s not entirely sure why but if he rests up for two days, I think he should be OK.”