James McClean: Lucky to escape red card.

How the Irish fared

James McClean: Lucky to escape red card.

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.

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