It’s the question no Ireland supporter wants to face. How will Ireland replace Robbie Keane, by some distance the nation’s most prolific striker?
Could the answer be a winger recently converted into a striker? Before Christmas, Wigan manager Malky Mackay decided to make James McClean the focal point of his attack. The move hasn’t yet brought about a change in Wigan’s fortunes — they are five points off safety in the Championship — but McClean has thrived in his new role and scored for the third time in five games on Saturday as the Latics drew 1-1 with Blackburn.
“James McClean’s execution of the header was sensational and it merited his performance because he really worked hard at centre-forward and looked like somebody that people don’t want to play against,” Mackay said.
It’s still early days in his new role but Martin O’Neill could do worse than have a look.
It wasn’t, however, all plaudits for McClean, with Blackburn boss Gary Bowyer claiming the 25-year-old should not have been on the pitch when he scored, after escaping with just a yellow card for a first-half lunge.
Bowyer said: “Their goalscorer shouldn’t be on the pitch following the challenge he produced in the first half. The referee (Mike Jones) is from the Premier League. I watch the Premier League on a Sunday and I see those challenges being given as red cards left, right and centre. It must be different rules in the Championship.”
Elsewhere, two early goals from Noel Hunt helped Ipswich to a 3-1 win at Millwall as the Tractor Boys climbed to second. “It was an outstanding performance from Hunty, I’m delighted with him,” Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy said.
In the Scottish Premiership, a late penalty from Jonny Hayes helped leaders Aberdeen rescue a point in a 3-3 draw against Dundee. Aberdeen were trailing 3-1 when Hayes dispatched his penalty after 87 minutes and the goal proved vital as the Dons scored again in stoppage-time. Back to England and in League One, a header from Anthony Forde helped Walsall to a 2-0 win at Colchester while on Friday night Dave Mooney was among the goals as Leyton Orient drew 2-2 at Preston.
In League Two on Saturday, substitute Barry Corr scored the winner as Southend won 3-2 at Oxford Town. Corr’s winner will have come as a relief to team-mate Gary Deegan after he was sent off in the first half.
Elsewhere, James Collins was on the mark as Shrewsbury eased to a 3-0 win over Hartlepool while Blackburn loanee Darragh Lenihan rescued a point for Burton Albion in the 1-1 draw with Portsmouth.