At least that is the view of Ireland legend Ray Houghton, who believes that the second-half fight-back in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Poland can act as a spark to ignite the remainder of qualifying campaign.
A late Shane Long goal secured the vital point at the Aviva Stadium, but Ireland sit fourth in Group D and must make the most of their remaining games if they want to secure a place at next year’s finals in France.
For that to happen, Houghton, who scored Ireland’s first goal at a European Championship in 1988, insists O’Neill’s men must play without fear and take more risks — like they did when chasing the game against Poland.
“I just thought we were a bit reluctant and I think it comes down to not playing for a while and maybe one or two players being in relegation battles, maybe their confidence wasn’t quite there earlier on,” said Houghton.
“But the longer that the game went on, we got mentally stronger, braver, more courageous in possession of the ball. We started to do what we’re good at, and that’s why we created as many chances in the second half.
“That’s when it comes down to not playing without fear, you just want to go out there and show people what you can do. I think there’s a bit more talent in the team to come.
“To score three late goals, like we have against Georgia, Germany, and Sunday night, shows the lads are still trying until the 90-plus minute. They’re not giving up and there is great resolve about them. Even when we’re outplayed, as we were against Germany, somehow we managed to get something out of it. I would say we’re in there fighting at the moment and have a decent chance of qualifying.”
Houghton remains confident about Ireland’s chances, even though he views the June 13 visit of Scotland as a “must-win game”, he sees it as a clash that O’Neill’s side should take the three points from.
Speaking at yesterday’s Uefa Regions’ Cup draw at Aviva Stadium ahead of this summer’s tournament in Dublin, the former Ireland international picked out the display of Wes Hoolahan as a bright point.
“Wes (Hoolahan) started off as a No. 10 in many respects, but when he went over to the left he done a bit better and he had the freedom to manouvere around,” said Houghton.
“Actually instead of staying up there near Robbie (Keane), when he went over there (to the left) we started finding him the ball. Whereas when he stood up there, we struggled to find him. When he was given a bit more freedom to roam, that is when he got on the ball and you can see the best of him.”