Thursday 19 January 2017

Keane ruled out but O'Neill set to give start to highly-rated Championship defender

Tom Rooney

Published 24/03/2016 | 13:23

Republic of Ireland captain Robbie Keane has been ruled out of tomorrow’s friendly against Switzerland with a knee injury, but Martin O’Neill is hopeful that the striker will be available for Tuesday’s encounter with Slovakia.

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The former Spurs attacker took a knock during the LA Galaxy’s victory over the San Jose Earthquakes which, at the time, was thought to be relatively innocuous.

Keane joins Harry Arter, Jonathan Walters, Jeff Hendrick and Anthony Pilkington on the list of those who the manager will not be able to fully call on for the two fixtures ahead.

The issue is tempered by the possibility that Walters and Pilkington have an outside chance of featuring against the Slovakians at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday.

“He’s still sore and he got a bang on his knee at the weekend,” O’Neill said of Keane. “We thought it would respond more quickly than it’s doing but he wouldn’t be available for tomorrow evening. We’ll have a look at it again on Saturday and see how he gets on.”

In the absence of Keane and Walters, Shane Long and Daryl Murphy are likely to each get a shot to lead the line from the off this week. The latter was preferred to the former in doing so for Ireland’s famous win over Germany, though it was Long who netted the game’s decisive goal.

For fringe players such as Arter and Pilkington, this week marks one of the few occasions left to make their case for a spot in the 23-man squad that will travel to France for Euro 2016. Of course, May’s friendly with Holland will be the final opportunity to turn O’Neill’s head.

The manager did say that Blackburn defender Shane Duffy will start against either Switzerland or Slovakia, while Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot received similar news, via the media, earlier in the week.

Without giving away any tangible specifics, O’Neill outlined that he plans to use the next two games as a litmus test for the less familiar faces in the squad and to reawaken the same unity of purpose that saw his side qualify for France.

“I want to experiment with a few players. I also want to be competitive and I’d like to keep the momentum going because we don’t have that many games to go until the start of the Euros. But effectively, I just want to try and play with a wee bit of cohesion and go and enjoy it,” he said.

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