Hunt set to miss rest of the season

IRELAND’S build-up to the World Cup qualifying play-off against France will begin to take real shape this afternoon when Giovanni Trapattoni names his squad at a press conference at FAI headquarters in Abbotstown.

There was mixed news yesterday for the Irish manager in terms of the cover available to him for his first choice strike force of Robbie Keane and Kevin Doyle, with Noel Hunt likely to miss the rest of the season while Leon Best expressed confidence he would return from injury sooner than expected.

Reading’s Hunt has undergone surgery after a knee injury flared up again.

Said Reading manager Brendan Rogers: “Noel’s been struggling with the injury for some time. He’s having the operation to sort things out and that will probably rule him out for the rest of the season.”

But there was better news from Coventry City’s Leon Best who is now on course to face Reading at the Ricoh Arena tomorrow.

It was initially feared Best, who yesterday revealed he is eager to hold talks with Coventry over a new contract, had suffered serious ligament damage but scans revealed the injury was not as bad as first thought.

However, with Caleb Folan currently sidelined at Middlesbrough, Trapattoni may look to widen his striking options and that could mean a recall for Anthony Stokes who is currently enjoying a new lease of goalscoring life at Scottish outfit Hibernian.

Doubtless much of today’s press conference will be taken up with hearing Trapattoni’s response to the controversy which has blown up around his comments on Steven Reid’s recovery from injury.

The manager’s concern about the player’s long-term future drew gasps of astonishment from the Blackburn midfielder and a withering tongue-lashing from his boss at Ewood Park, Sam Allardyce.

Reid is expected to be included in today’s squad after his recovery gained momentum with a goal in Blackburn’s Carling Cup victory over Peterborough on Tuesday.

And there should also be a recall for another veteran who is embarking on the long road back from injury.

Steve Finnan was among those rested in Portsmouth’s 4-0 hammering of Stoke City in the Carling Cup this week but the former Liverpool man is expected back for tomorrow’s Premier League game against Wigan.

Said Finnan yesterday: “I need more games. I don’t know when I’ll be 100%. But the more games I play, obviously, the more match fitness I get.’’

Meanwhile, Kevin Doyle says he is looking forward to coming up against his former underage coach Mick Wallace on Monday when Wexford Youths host Wolves in a friendly at Ferrycarrig Park.

The fixture was included as part of the transfer deal that saw Doyle move from Reading to Wolves earlier this summer to become the club’s record signing, and the Wexford-born striker is pleased that the game will go some way to repaying the faith and support that Wallace showed in him over the years.

“I was delighted Wolves agreed to the fixture when agreeing the transfer as Wexford Youths and Mick deserves any help they can get as Mick was a huge influence on my career and development,” Doyle said. “It’s going to be a special night playing for Wolves in Wexford against a lot of lads I would have played with and against at underage level. Ferrycarrig Park is only a few miles away from my family home and I’m sure there will be a huge crowd at the game, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

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