For all the strides Ireland have made during the first year of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane’s management, legend Paul McGrath fears Scotland, under former team-mate Gordon Strachan, hold the upper hand this week.
McGrath was part of the last Irish team to win in Glasgow back in 1987 but he feels avoiding defeat against Strachan’s Scots on Friday would suffice as the Euro 2016 qualifiers crank up a notch.
Trailing Group D leaders Ireland and Poland by three points, the Scots will rely on their boisterous support and 13-month unbeaten home record to engineer a win to keep them in the qualification mix.
“Ireland seem to be bonding as a team — which is a great thing to have — but the problem is how well the Scots are doing too,” reasoned the holder of 83 caps from a distinguished Ireland career between 1985-1997.
“Scotland are bonding at the same time and Gordon Strachan has them peaking at the same time as us. Although he’s one of the funniest men I ever met, and was the joker of the dressing room, I knew from playing alongside Gordon that he’d always go into management.
“He’s inspired teams at club level and he’s doing the same with Scotland now. Gordon has them believing that they can win things as well — just at the wrong time for us really. But if we can go there and get some sort of a result, then we’ll be in a strong place within the group.”
Just like this week, Ireland headed into the Celtic battle 27 years ago without some key personnel through injury. McGrath filled in at right-back, with Liverpool pair Ronnie Whelan and Mark Lawrenson deployed in unfamiliar positions too.
“The team was a little bit messed up, to be fair,” recounted McGrath. “Mark Lawrenson was the most talented of the defenders and he was stuck in midfield. They put Ronnie at left back! But, to be honest, it worked and Mark scored the winner. And if he had been playing at the back he wouldn’t have scored.”
On the Premier League front, McGrath is saddened to see his former clubs Manchester United and Aston Villa struggling.
“Villa have been shocking,” he said. “People are expecting Villa to improve because they are such a young team but I have been saying that for four years. They’re lost games here and there by three goals. And, sorry, that’s a team not putting in the work.”
Of United under Louis van Gaal, he said: “I think Van Gaal will do the job but he needs time. I hope we don’t become a club that sacks managers every year. I like to see managers been given three years. If you can do the job in that time, then you get your extra three years.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved