Gary Lineker has heaped praise on Evan Ferguson, branding the rising Irish star “a real striker before my eyes”.
The 18-year-old warmed up for what is widely expected to be his first senior international start on Wednesday against Latvia by bagging a brace in Brighton’s 5-0 hammering of Grimsby Town.
The stroll over the League Two underdogs, who had Kilkenny native Gavan Holohan - formerly of Cork City - in midfield, earned the Seagulls an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United on April 22 at Wembley Stadium.
Ferguson’s double expanded his season’s haul to six goals, a streak that only began less than three months ago when he was sprung from the bench on New Year’s Eve to score against Arsenal.
Lineker was due to present BBC’s live coverage of the tie at the AMEX Stadium but despite being reinstated by the broadcaster in the wake of their mishandling of his tweet about immigration policy, a cold conspired to deprive him of his vocal cords.
“18-year-old Evan Ferguson wraps it up for Brighton with his second goal,” he tweeted, rather less controversially. “I see a real centre-forward before my eyes.”
Ferguson’s continuation as Ireland’s form striker, validated by 1986 World Cup Golden Boot winner Lineker, cements his status as queue-topper for the serious business of leading Ireland’s line in European Championship qualification.
That begins at the deep end on Monday week by welcoming France, ranked fifth in the world, to Lansdowne Road.
Wednesday’s run-out against the lowly Latvians will only be relevant in the context of melding his presence into the team system.
Stephen Kenny has likened Ferguson’s repertoire to the range they were robbed off when David McGoldrick quit early in the manager’s reign, insofar as he’s a striker blessed with a mixture of dropping deep and ferocious ability to polish off chances inside the box.
Whom he partners in attack, likely either Michael Obafemi or Troy Parrott, or ahead of the pair in the sole No 9, will be fascinating with a lookahead to the task of toppling Les Bleus.
Also in Sunday’s FA Cup action, Sam Szmodics followed up his goal in the last round against Leicester City by firing Blackburn Rovers into a 2-1 lead at Sheffield United. They looked on course for the semis until a Blades side backboned by Corkman John Egan mounted a late comeback to squeeze through courtesy of Tommy Doyle’s stoppage-time winner.
Due to Adam Idah’s withdrawal through injury, Szmodics may earn a spot in the 26-man squad selected for the first games of 2023.
There appeared to be no new fresh fitness concerns ahead of the squad undertaking their first training session on Monday at Abbotstown.
It is not known whether Mikey Johnstson's absence from the Vitória Guimarães matchday squad for Saturday's 5-1 pasting by Benfica was due to injury or selection.
Ireland must finish among the top two of a group containing France, Netherlands, Greece and Gibraltar to reach Germany next year, ending an eight-year tournament drought.