Martin O’Neill needs firepower up top — and quick, writes John Fallon.
1: Stop the rot
Monday’s defeat was the third on the trot for Ireland, continuing a woeful season which concludes with Saturday’s visit of USA.
Of the six games played, only two victories were recorded, both coming in October when six points from the double-header against Moldova and Wales were essential to secure a play-off.
It may be merely a friendly but Ireland require a result and, despite Saturday’s game having a testimonial feel to it being John O’Shea’s swansong, O’Neill will not loathe signing off without a win. “We don’t want to make it four defeats on the bounce,” admitted Shane Duffy about the prospect of heading to the beach nursing another reverse. Neither would it be the sort of outcome O’Shea should bow out on.
2: Trust his players
In contrast to the last meeting with the hosts at the Stade de France nine years, when Ireland’s players took it upon themselves to adopt an attacking approach, O’Neill’s current team were stymied by his conservative tactics.
Packing the midfield against a team of France’s quality was to be expected yet the policy of lumping the ball forward for solitary striker Shane Long to chase was easily managed by the home side.
Giovanni Trapattoni was slated for applying the straitjacket to his team but O’Neill hasn’t been much better as shown on Monday. Callum O’Dowda, a naturally wide player full of pace, was deployed centrally and the game duly passed him by. The three-at-the-back formation tested in Turkey appears to be the best method of Ireland displaying a sliver of ambition.
3: Select his new left-back
Stephen Ward’s continuation in that slot was already under threat before his nightmare of a performance against Denmark in the second leg of the World Cup play-off and O’Neill seems to be moving on.
Derrick Williams was handed his audition to be the successor in the France friendly, warming to the task after a shaky opening 10 minutes. Enda Stevens or Greg Cunningham might be tried out there on Saturday but the big question centres on Matt Doherty. The defender comfortably slotted into that role during Wolves’ barnstorming Championship title victory yet it doesn’t look as if his talent is to O’Neill’s liking. Doherty was the last substitute used, playing only eight minutes, and was first out of the dressing-room afterwards headed for the team bus.
4: Broaden his options in attack
It took until stoppage time in Paris for Ireland to muster an effort on target; a slight improvement on the Turkey game where none were registered at all. O’Neill can no longer rely on veterans Shane Long and Jon Walters to lead the line, making it all the more worse that Seán Maguire and Scott Hogan were unavailable.
Saturday should be the platform for Hogan to start, assuming he’s fit after Saturday’s play-off final, and Graham Burke has done enough over a couple of cameos to justify a spot in the team. There’s still no news on Callum Robinson’s switch from England being ratified but O’Neill needs firepower up top — and quick.
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